In October 2016, CEP launched the CEP awards, a celebration of outstanding contributions to probation. The awards scheme reflects CEP’s vision: to contribute to safer communities by rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders and providing the best possible interventions to reduce re-offending and the impact of crime. First of 4 categories is Rehabilitation in the community. Winner is Fiona Deacon for the Women’s Problem Solving Court, Manchester and Salford Magistrates Court.

Women offenders are benefitting from a specialist court holds them to account for their actions, but also supports their rehabilitation. That’s in short what the Manchester and Salford Problem Solving Court stand for. The court id specifically for female offenders who have committed a crime that puts them at risk of a jail sentence. The initiative was designed by Fiona Deacon, probation officer for the National Probation Service (NPS). Since being launched, almost 60 women have attended the court. Most of them are sentenced to Community Orders.

Probation court staff identify women who are appropriate for the sentence. Each offender is then the focus of a meeting involving the agencies that have a role in supporting them. All of those involved then create a sentence plan aimed at meeting the offender’s needs and reducing their likelihood of reoffending.

It is 3 years ago when in a meeting Fiona Deacon discussed how to reduce the number of women going into custody from Manchester and Salford Magistrates Court, particularly women with young children who as a result of their incarceration would end up in LA care. The idea for a Women’s Problem Solving Court was born.  As a result of the conversation Fiona took on the mantle wholeheartedly and began to seek out the key partners.

The first step was to convince  that this could both work and was necessary. There were many objections from the court staff, Fiona was told it was impossible or even not legal and some people openly laughed at the suggestion. Fiona set out her design, arranged regular meetings, tailored the approach to target women with multiple issues and convinced them to “give it a go”. Criteria for the Women’s Problem Solving Court cohort focuses on those who are at risk of short term custody,  who present with four or more complex needs and are motivated to comply. Baroness Corston’s ‘Review of Women with Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System’ (Corston, 2007) highlighted that the multiple, complex needs of women offenders, require a multi-agency, woman centered and holistic approach, if their offending is to be reduced.

The complex needs are:

  • Accommodation;
  • Finances;
  • Drugs or alcohol;
  • Domestic violence;
  • Mental health;
  • Self-harm;
  • Children services involvement.

Fiona: “The results we are seeing are very positive. By bringing the offender to a sentence planning meeting, we start addressing their problems often before their community order is imposed. Offenders are often nervous when they attend, but invariably leave the feeling overwhelmed that others care about their issues. Once problems clearly linked to their decision to offend are addressed, these problems can often be resolved. This in turn lowers their likelihood of re-offending.”

The CEP award for the category of Rehabilitation in Community was handed at the CEP Conference on Alternatives to detention in Bucharest by Mr. Mr. Mihai Dima, General Director of the Romanian National Probation Directorate and Mr. Gerry McNally, President of CEP. As Ms. Fiona Deacon could unfortunately not attend the conference, the award received by her colleague, Ms. Katie Thomson.

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