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Diverting Women Offenders and the Women Specific Condition (within the national Conditional Cautioning Framework)

Purpose

This guidance has been produced to assist prosecutors in deciding if the authorising of a conditional caution with a Women Specific Condition (WSC) is an appropriate disposal. This guidance should be read in conjunction with the Legal Guidance on Cautioning and Diversion.

Together, these documents support and underpin the Code for Crown Prosecutors by providing additional guidance. The Code for Crown Prosecutors sets out in section 7 the role of the CPS in relation to out-of-court disposals and the circumstances in which a conditional caution may be offered.

Prosecutors are also assisted by Standard 3 of the CPS Core Quality Standards (CQS) which sets out the considerations that will help inform our decisions around the use of out-of-court disposals.

A number of CPS Areas have bespoke facilities through which the particular needs of women and the drivers behind their criminal behaviour - for example, drug or alcohol abuse or involvement in an abusive relationship - may be addressed through the provision of tailored support. They may be dedicated Women's Community Projects or similar 'One-Stop-Shops' and are provided by both statutory and voluntary sector agencies. A list of Women's Community Projects can be found in Annex A.

Where such facilities exist, prosecutors should consider the suitability of the offender for a WSC, especially where a referral to a Women's Community Project as part of the WSC might lead to the breaking of their cycle of offending.

The same principles apply if similar services exist to support male offenders.

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Background

The Corston Report on women with vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system 'A Report by Baroness Jean Corston of a Review of Women with Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System' (the Corston Report) published in 2006 made 43 recommendations. A full copy of the Report can be found at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/corston-report.htm

These, together with the Government's Response to the Report published in December 2007, highlight how:

  • women with histories of violence and abuse are over represented in the criminal justice system and can often be described as victims as well as offenders;
  • proportionately more women than men are remanded in custody;
  • women commit a different range of offences from men. They commit more acquisitive crime and have a lower involvement in serious violence, criminal damage and professional crime;
  • drug addiction plays a substantial part in all offending and this is disproportionately the case with women; and
  • mental health problems are far more prevalent among women in prison than in the male prison population or in the general population.

A copy the Government's Response can be found at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/docs/corston-review.pdf

Recommendation 18 of the Corston Report states that: 'custodial sentences for women must be reserved for serious and violent offenders who pose a threat to the public'. Within its overall response to this recommendation, the Government in 2007 acknowledged that: 'the use of Conditional Cautioning, for example, may be a particularly useful response for some women offenders and could allow for some of the underlying factors which affect their offending to be addressed'.

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Together Women Projects

In order to address the needs of women who had offended, to reduce their re-offending and to prevent them becoming involved in crime, 'Together Women Projects' (TWP) began operating between late 2006 and early 2007 at five centres in the North West and the Yorkshire and Humberside National Offender Management Service (NOMS) Regions.

Although they vary dependant on local requirements, they all generally include the provision of a women-only safe space with an all female permanent staff group as a primary principle for service delivery.

In addition, they provide:

  • a 'one-stop-shop' whereby women can access a range of services in one place or from one key worker having specialist knowledge and expertise in working with women;
  • the provision of a holistic, needs-led and women-centred response to address wide-ranging needs and co-ordinate the right packages of services and support. This approach is designed to enhance existing services and provision, not to replace them, and to ensure that the issues any woman presents with are not dealt with in isolation;
  • a focus on health. This ranges from primary and secondary care to sexual health, mental health, substance use and health of children and families;
  • the working in partnership between a variety of agencies to deliver services to women and their children. This may include improving parenting skills, supporting women through child protection procedures, assist with child care and working to reduce family breakdowns. Indeed by working to improve the life chances and opportunities of women, the circumstances and lives of their children and families are also likely to improve, thereby reducing likelihood of intergenerational poverty or offending;
  • strong links to educational services, to support women into education at the appropriate level, whether to improve basic skills, increase employability or provide opportunities to engage in voluntary work. All are beneficial to enhancing a woman's skills and boost self esteem and confidence;
  • the provision of practical and emotional support aimed at promoting empowerment, self esteem and improving emotional well being; and
  • an emphasis on a multi-agency and partnership working, promoting access to and use of relevant statutory and non-statutory services.

Conditional cautioning pilots in relation to women offenders were established in Leeds, Bradford and Liverpool. In these areas, a Conditional Caution could be issued to women offenders requiring them to attend a full needs assessment at a TWP Centre. The aim of the intervention was to address and reduce the offending behaviour and break the pattern of offending (in particular, of those who have experienced domestic violence). The pilot commenced on 1 September 2008 and the evaluation of the pilot was produced at the end of the pilot in March 2009. In Merseyside, in particular, work continues to build on the findings of these early pilots.

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Suitability

Part 3 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 sets out the requirements that are necessary before a conditional caution may be issued. Further guidance can be found in the Legal Guidance on Cautioning and Diversion.

Conditional cautions should not be used in the context of serious offending. The offences for which a conditional caution may be administered are set out in the Director's Guidance on Conditional Cautioning. However, where women have committed minor offences or sometimes even offended on a persistent basis (for example, shoplifting) and there is reason to believe that the imposition of a condition involving a referral to a Women's Community Project or similar may properly address the individual's criminal behaviour, careful consideration should be given to the authorising of a WSC.

The referral of the offender to a Women's Community Project or similar is a rehabilitative condition. Such a condition may be useful where various factors relevant to the woman concerned are identified at the time of decision making. These could include:

  • evidence of domestic or sexual abuse;
  • mental health issues;
  • drug use;
  • alcohol dependency; and
  • parenting issues.

The imposition a conditional caution is a serious matter. It forms part of the offender's criminal record and may be cited in subsequent court proceedings. Prosecutors should be careful not to 'up-tariff' an offence in a misplaced effort to provide assistance to a woman offender. For example, it would be inappropriate to authorise a WSC in circumstances where it would be more appropriate for the police to issue a simple caution or for other informal action to be taken.

Annex A

List of Women's Community Projects

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