Event – Supporting Women in the Criminal Justice System: Protecting the Vulnerable, Reducing Reoffending & Improving Conditions


Date of Event: Tuesday, February 8th 2022

Time of Event: 9:30 AM — 1:00 PM

Place of Event: Webinar

Key Speakers

  • Olivia Dehnavi, Policy and Research Officer at Working Chance
  • Anita Dockley, Research Director at The Howard League for Penal Reform
  • Anita Dockley, Research Director at The Howard League for Penal Reform
  • Professor Azrini Wahidin, Professor of Sociology and Criminology and Co-Chair of Women in Prison
  • Helen Mills, Head of Programmes at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies

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Government and third sector organisations have both argued that female offenders are amongst the most vulnerable in the criminal justice system (CJS). Women are much more likely than men to self-harm whilst in prison. In 2020, women made up 22% of all self-harm incidents despite making up only 4% of the prison population. Women are also more likely to be victims as well as offenders, with one half of women in prison suffering domestic violence. Around two thirds of women have dependent children, and studies show how separation through imprisonment leads to a disorganised attachment pattern in around 80% of such children. There are also questions around the suitability of prisons for many female offenders. Over 80% of sentenced women entering prison have been convicted of non-violent offences, and most serve short sentences (six months or less) that campaigners argue serve little benefit. Many also offend as a way to resolve practical difficulties, such as drug addiction, unemployment, unsuitable accommodation, debt and an abusive partner.

The government has committed to divert the most vulnerable women in the CJS away from custody. In 2018, it published its Female Offender Strategy aimed to “break the cycle” of reoffending by addressing the vulnerability of female offenders. It committed to invest £5 million towards community provision for women, and work with local and national partners to develop a pilot for ‘residential women’s centres’ in at least five sites across England and Wales. The aim of the strategy was to have fewer women coming into the CJS by intervening early to address the needs of vulnerable women; fewer women in custody (especially on short term sentences) and a greater proportion of women managed in the community; and better conditions for those in custody, particularly in regards to the rates of self-harm. The Female Offender Strategy is built upon challenges established in successive reviews going back to the Corston Report in 2007.

Despite this, progress on addressing the challenges and vulnerabilities of many female offenders remains unclear. In 2020, the government confirmed that approximately 4% of female prison releases are to rough sleeping and 14% are homelessness. The 2019 Farmer Review, while welcoming the government’s strategy, did not comment on its ongoing implementation. Instead it highlighted the importance of “healthy, supportive” relationships that were “utterly indispensable” for every woman in the CJS if they were to “turn away from criminality and contribute positively to society”. The 2018 strategy was also noted for its lack of provisions for BAME women offenders, who face further discrimination in the CJS.

As well as consdierations for female offenders going through the CJS, female victims also face disproportionate challenges as they also go through the system. According to a survey by the Victims’ Commissioner, only 9% of woemn victims have confidence in the system. Many women have complained that the police “do not take their complaints seriously”. Women also face barriers to victims’ services, such as counselling and financial support.

This symposium will give policy makers, local authorities, criminal justice services, mental health professionals and other key stakeholders the opportunity to address this problem. It will review the current legislative framework, examine present government and third party reports on the challenges facing women in the CJS.


  • Examine current government policy for addressing the challenges facing women in the criminal justice system (CJS) 
  • Understand the ongoing delivery of the 2018 Female Offenders Strategy, as well as the 2019 Farmers Review, and what this means for stakeholders
  • Identify strategies for helping women back into employment and secure accommodation after leaving prison
  • Discuss how women victims, especially of crimes such as rape and domestic violence, can be better supported by the police
  • Explore the challenges female victims face as they go through the CJS and how this can be improved
  • Discuss how to improve conditions within female prisons, including how to reduce the incidence of self-harm 
  • Learn about the role domestic violence plays in female offending and how this can be addressed at an earlier stage
  • Evaluate the consequences of high levels of child dependency and how to better support the children of female offenders
  • Share best practice in supporting BAME women’s needs
  • Explore alternatives to imprisonment for female offenders, including current government pilot schemes

Who Should Attend?

  • Police Services
  • Probation Officers
  • Community Rehabilitation Companies
  • Judges and Magistrates
  • Crown Prosecution Service
  • Criminal Justice Practitioners
  • Police and Crime Commissioners
  • Courts and Tribunal Service
  • Appeals Courts
  • Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships
  • Local Authority Officers and Councillors
  • Central Government and Agencies
  • Local Criminal Justice Boards
  • Prison and Probation Services
  • Neighbourhood Policing Teams
  • Social Workers and Social Services Officers
  • Women’s Centres
  • Refuge Organisations
  • Domestic Violence Co-ordinators
  • Safeguarding Adults Teams
  • Local Safeguarding Children Boards
  • Children and Young People Services
  • Family Services Officers
  • Family Protection Units
  • Health Service Professionals
  • Anti-Social Behaviour Coordinators
  • Youth Offending Teams
  • Youth Justice Boards
  • Offender Management Services
  • Legal Advisers and Solicitors
  • Legal Professionals
  • Community Safety Teams
  • Community Support Officers
  • Community Cohesion Officers
  • Community Engagement Officers
  • Community Relations Advisers
  • Family Engagement Workers
  • Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Teams
  • Neighbourhood Renewal Teams
  • Social Inclusion Officers
  • Policy Officers
  • Equal Opportunities Officers
  • Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Practitioners
  • Local Voluntary and Community Organisations
  • Third Sector Practitioners
  • Academics, Analysts and Researchers

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