It is well documented that women in the criminal justice system have different and more severe needs than men. Women are in the minority in the criminal justice system, approximately 5% of the prison population and 15% of those serving a community sentence. Women are often neglected in a system designed for the majority. Over 53% of women in the criminal justice system experienced abuse as children, compared to 27% of men. Far more women than men are primary carers for children, with significant consequences for the children of those who go to prison, as well as the mothers. 49% of women in prison suffer from both anxiety and depression, as compared to 23% of men. Some are engaged in street sex work and significant numbers have chronic substance misuse problems.
The Corston Report called for a radical change in the way that women at risk of offending are treated across the whole of the criminal justice system. Corston advocated a women-centred approach through the extension of women’s community centres; reservation of custodial sentences for only the most serious and violent offenders posing a risk to the public; and geographically dispersed, small, multi-functional custodial centres for women. Since publication of the report in 2007, many of the damaging effects identified by Corston – for example, the disproportionately harmful impact of prison on women and their children and the futility of short custodial sentences – remain. However, the Ministry of Justice’s 2018 Female Offender Strategy recognises the ineffectiveness of short sentences and seeks to reduce their use. Scotland introduced a presumption against sentences of less than three months in 2011. This was extended to 12 months in 2017.
Our members provide a wide variety of gender specific services for women, including the one-stop-shop approach that delivers a woman-centred, holistic package of support in a safe and women only environment. Evidence from the Ministry of Justice datalab demonstrates that these women-centred holistic services work. Following the reunification of probation, most of the contracts to provided commissioned rehabilitative services for women were awarded to women-specific organisations.
Are you looking for voluntary organisations working with women? Browse our Directory.
Read Clinks case studies showcasing the innovative work of our members working with women.
Clinks is a ‘Friend’ of the NWJC
The National Women's Justice Coalition (NWJC) is a group of women’s sector leaders working collaboratively to strengthen the voice of women’s centres and specialist organisations. The group works with women affected by the criminal justice system and builds capacity for influencing change. In this role we participate in and contribute to specific activities and pieces of work, as determined by the coalition’s priority work streams. Clinks supports the aims of the coalition and shares its ambition to create systemic change for women affected by the criminal justice system.
Clinks thinks a cross departmental strategy for women and girls, led by the Ministry of Justice, should ensure that women are diverted away from the criminal justice system at the earliest opportunity. To do this, we need to increase the use of gender specific community sentences and make sure we invest in specialist voluntary organisations, including women’s centres.
What Clinks is doing
Clinks seeks to highlight the specific and often neglected needs of women in the criminal justice system and to provide support to the organisations that work with them. We carry out this work in partnership with specialist women's organisations, such as Agenda, and campaigning organisations such as Women in Prison and the Prison Reform Trust. If you have issues you would like raised with the government, please contact Jess Mullen.
Through these partnerships, we continue to make the case for the distinct needs of women to be recognised and addressed by the criminal justice system and related agencies.
Clinks is committed to supporting women-centred community provision and the wider women’s sector. We know that strong community-based women’s services are the best way to make a real difference to the lives of women at risk of entering, or those already in, the criminal justice system. If you would like support on a specific issue, please contact Jess Mullen.
Clinks publishes a quarterly ebulletin providing a roundup of developments, member activities, events and publications.
Pregnancy and maternity in the criminal justice system
Following research undertaken in 2020, Clinks and Birth Companions published a report exploring the needs and experiences of pregnant women and new mothers in contact with the criminal justice system in the community, in England. The report is based on the lived experiences of these women and those involved in their care. We have set out 16 recommendations for change, aimed at criminal justice agencies, health services, voluntary sector organisations, and social services. These include prioritising and sustainable funding whole systems approaches, ensuring provision supports a trauma-informed, holistic and culturally appropriate approach, implementing Lord Farmer’s recommendation for mandatory pre-sentence reports as soon as possible, and reversing the plans to create 500 new prison places for women.
Strengthening family ties
In 2018 Lord Farmer carried out a review into how to strengthen family ties for women serving sentences in the community and in custody, as well as under probation supervision after release. Clinks was a member of the review’s expert panel and led the call for evidence. We heard from approximately 10% of the female prison population along with their families, the voluntary organisations that support them and academics. We are delighted that the voice of these experts has been able to help shape the focus and recommendations of the review and we are grateful to our members for facilitating this engagement. The report was published in June 2019 and made a total of 33 recommendations. You can access it here.
Clinks sits as a member of the Family Strategy Working Group to inform the implementation of the review’s recommendations. Please contact our Policy Manager if you would like more information. Clinks also sits on the Ministry of Justice’s Female Offender Minority Ethnic Working Group which aims to improve outcomes for racially minoritised women in the criminal justice system.
Clinks Women's Network
The Clinks Women’s Network brings together Clinks members that focus on providing women-specific services. This ensures we can properly engage and represent organisations offering gender-specific support to women affected by the criminal justice system. Jackie Lowthian, our Women’s Network Coordinator, liaises regularly with network members to share information, provide advice, and offer support. Contact her here: Jackie.firstname.lastname@example.org
In partnership with Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk, we host quarterly women’s networking forums which provide opportunities to:
Meet and engage with other organisations offering women-specific services
Access information, advice, and support on developing and running women-specific services
Receive policy updates from Clinks and Agenda
Hear from expert speakers on topics relevant to women and criminal justice.
Clinks gathers intelligence at these events to inform our representative work with government and other stakeholders, including the MoJ’s Advisory Board for Female Offenders. Lisa Dando, women’s specialist on the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group and Chief Executive at Brighton Women’s Centre, attends the women’s networking forum to gather feedback about key issues raised by the women’s sector to reflect these to national government at RR3 meetings.
Network members also get exclusive access to training and development events and receive regular updates on issues relevant to women and criminal justice via a quarterly ebulletin and email updates.
Join the Women’s Network
Registration is required to be able to attend our quarterly women’s network forum events.
Registration is free and open to current Clinks members that work or volunteer in a women-specific voluntary organisation that provides services for women, or those who work with men and women but currently deliver fully established services designed specifically for and open only to women.
Find details of upcoming events here. If you would like to suggest content for a network meeting, or request the network's presentations or notes from previous meetings, please contact Jackie Lowthian at Jackie.email@example.com.
Women’s Breakout merger
Clinks worked closely with Women’s Breakout, an infrastructure organisation for women’s organisations working in the criminal justice system. After facing insurmountable financial issues, Women's Breakout approached Clinks to take on its services. The merger took place on 1st August 2017.
Advising the Ministry of Justice
Clinks represents voluntary organisations working with women in the criminal justice system. We offer intelligence to senior civil servants and successive ministers on key issues for the sector to ensure policy and decision making is informed and up-to-date.
Our representative work with the government and other stakeholders includes representation on the Ministry of Justice’s Advisory Board for Female Offenders (ABFO). The Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3), the advisory group to the Ministry of Justice includes a representative from the women’s sector. If you would like to raise an issue with either of these groups, please email ABFO rep Jess Mullen or RR3 rep LisaDando@womenscentre.org.uk
Reflections on the Race and Justice Network
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Other sources of support
The Corston Report
Women Centred Working
Ministry of Justice’s Female Offender Strategy