Pilot scheme aimed at diverting women away from the criminal justice system praised

Chief Constable Jo Shiner and Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne. Image: Sussex PoliceChief Constable Jo Shiner and Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne. Image: Sussex Police
Chief Constable Jo Shiner and Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne. Image: Sussex Police
A pilot scheme aimed at diverting women away from the criminal justice system has been praised as successful by the Chief Constable of Sussex Police.

But with only 15 women having been referred since the pilot launched in December 2023, Jo Shiner acknowledged that there was still more to be done.

Care Not Custody sees the police and the Probation Service working with partners such as the Brighton Women’s Centre to find alternatives to taking women to court.

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These include working with case officers to address the route causes of bad behaviour, offering mentoring, support, and intervention to help them live a crime-free life.

During a meeting with Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne, the Chief Constable said: “The focus has been on the appropriate use of out-of-court resolutions to try to divert women away from the criminal justice system at the earliest opportunity that we can.

“It is looking quite successful, albeit we’re learning a lot as we’re going through the programme, as you always do.”

The scheme was launched on the back of the government’s Female Offender Strategy Delivery Plan 2022-25, which laid out four key priorities to reduce women’s offending.

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They were: to see fewer women entering the justice system and re-offending, fewer women serving short custodial sentences with a greater proportion managed successfully in the community, better outcomes for women in custody, and protecting the public through better outcomes for women on release.

Anyone referred to Care Not Custody has to first admit responsibility for their crime and then agree to participate in the scheme.

The reasons why women offend and re-offend tend to vary significantly from men – domestic abuse being high on the list.

The government has described women in contact with the criminal justice system as ‘amongst the most vulnerable in society’.

Hence the need for a different approach.

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The Chief Constable acknowledged that the referral figure was low but told Mrs Bourne that a Sergeant had been appointed to find out why and to increase the numbers.

She explained that the work aimed to ‘maximise the number of women that we’re able to try to divert out of that life of crime and give them the ability to be able to lead a fulfilling and happy life’.

She added: “It’s a really complex area but there are lots of different units and different people and different agencies who are trying to improve that position for those women.”