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Turning around the lives of vulnerable women caught up in the criminal justice system

Posted: Friday 8th March 2019
Blog: March

Today marks International Women’s Day and we’re highlighting the work that is going on across Avon and Somerset to specifically support women offenders.

Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens made reducing reoffending a priority in 2016 for her second term in office and part of that work includes dedicated support for women.

In 2017 project SHE was piloted in Bristol. SHE which stands for Support Help Engagement is now available in Somerset, Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset. Project SHE works with the Nelson Trust to divert women at the point of arrest to help them avoid a charge, court appearance or prison sentence.

Since the start of SHE, 284 women have been referred to The Nelson Trust for support and on Monday, PCC Sue Mountstevens visited their new women’s centre in Bridgwater, Somerset.  

Sue Mountstevens said: “The opening of the women centre in Somerset is an exciting new service and will help address a gap in the support available for women in Somerset.”

The Nelson Trust’s Christina Line said: “The new centre is a community resource for vulnerable women who maybe experiencing multiple and complex needs. This one stop shop will provide women with a safe space where they are able to gain practical and emotional support from a dedicated keyworker, access to a range of therapeutic and educational psychosocial and onsite support from specialists.”

Rebecca Marshall, from Avon and Somerset Police added: “The new women centre is a culmination of the hard work of many partners over the last couple of years who identified that we needed a women centre in Somerset and have worked with and supported Nelson trust to turn that ambition into a reality.”

SHE is currently the only point of arrest diversion scheme for women in Avon and Somerset and moves women away from the path of prison to help them tackle the root causes of their offending

Sue Mountstevens added: “The causes of women’s offending can be complex, ranging from domestic abuse to debt and sometimes drug and alcohol addictions. We must not forget that by helping women offenders we can also help their children too. National figures from 2010 show that over 17,000 children were separated from their mothers by imprisonment and only 5% of children with a mother in prison were able to stay in the family home. It is vital that we support schemes like this to improve the outcomes for women and families.”

At the moment, the Bridgwater centre is only open for police referrals but will also be a drop-in centre when full staffing is in place. The Nelson Trust also has plans to expand its work to Yeovil, Taunton and Frome.

The £500,000 centre was funded by local fundraising and charities and support from Sedgemoor District Council, Somerset Community Foundation and The Ministry of Justice.

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