Doctor Kate Paradine @klparadine consultant and former CEO of Women in Prison, shares her thoughts on the recently published delivery plan for the 2018 Government Strategy on Women’s Offending
“A goal without a plan is just a wish” Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Last week’s publication of the long-awaited Delivery Plan for the 2018 Government Strategy on women’s offending has been met with a warm, but guarded, welcome by charities and others working to reduce the harm caused to women by the criminal justice system and prison. In January 2022 a National Audit Office report criticised the “disappointing” progress in implementing the strategy. This and the Public Accounts Committee report in April 2022 called for the Ministry of Justice to get a grip on delivery with a clear plan, funding and measures of progress.
Opportunity for change
The resulting Delivery Plan presents a real opportunity to create lasting change in this area. The three original Strategy aims – 1) Prevention and early intervention 2) Reducing the use of prison whilst increasing use of community sentences 3) Improving outcomes for women in custody – are now joined by a fourth: Improving outcomes for women on release. Ministry of Justice reporting on progress with the Plan will include remaining actions from both the Farmer Report (on the role of families) and the Concordat (to promote multi-agency action). The Delivery Plan includes much needed metrics about impact (rather than outputs) with baselines to measure progress, including on rates of arrest and prosecutions, numbers of prison sentences, reoffending and employment rates etc.
There are some gaps in the Plan. It needs to explicitly include the Tackling Double Disadvantage: Ten-Point Action Plan published by an alliance of organisations led by Hibiscus, which has clear actions for change to address the double disadvantage experienced by Black, Asian and minoritised women. Unfortunately, the voices, strengths, and assets of women in the system don’t feature in the way they should. This has to be a golden thread throughout implementation, otherwise, initiatives like Problem Solving Courts and actions to support resettlement are likely to be undermined.
Keeping up the pressure
How can funders like Barrow Cadbury Trust and organisations that are campaigning and delivering services ensure this Plan delivers “deeds not words”? We know that shining a light on progress (and lack of it) is vital to influence those in power, to enable those involved to keep ‘chipping away’ at change, and to ensure accountability if that doesn’t happen. Organisations like Prison Reform Trust and Women in Prison have shown that forensic follow-up on commitments is vital and helps prevents actions from ‘falling through the cracks’. Sixteen years after Baroness Jean Corston’s clear blueprint for change, this has too often been the story for women in the criminal justice system.
Collaboration and Coalitions
Members of the new National Women’s Justice Coalition (NWJC), Corston Independent Funders Coalition (CIFC), Agenda, Clinks and others have demonstrated over the years how women’s specialist charities and independent funders are key partners in delivering impact, but they are too often overlooked by those in power. Officials working on probation service reform are already listening more closely to charities working on the ground. This new Plan is the opportunity to ensure these key players, and women themselves, are at the heart of a new system of justice. We know that “a goal without a plan is just a wish” and if this plan is funded and implemented properly, we could see a wish eventually become transformational systems change for women, families and communities.