Evaluation of Sixteen Women's Community Justice Services in Scotland

This document presents the findings of an evaluation of sixteen women’s community justice services in Scotland. The evaluation was conducted by the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS) during 2014-15.

8 Aspirations of the Commission's Report


This section reports on the extent to which WCJSs met the recommendations of the Commission on women offenders.[i]

8.1 This evaluation focussed on the first three recommendations only. Funding for the 16 projects was made available as part of the Scottish Government's response to the Commission. Projects were invited to propose developments that would reflect the recommendations of the Commission in the context of local needs and resources.

Recommendation 1: Community Justice Centres (one stop shops based on the 218 Service, Willow Project and Women's Centres in England) are established for women offenders to enable them to access a consistent range of services to reduce reoffending and bring about behavioural change.

8.2 Community Justice Centres as envisaged by the Commission were not logistically or financially possible in all areas. Instead, local authorities (in partnership with other agencies) developed Women's Community Justice Services, which were appropriate to the characteristics of their area. This included considerations of geography, the local female offender population in terms of its size and the complexity of needs; and the extent to which the service could be sustained beyond the Scottish Government funding period.

8.3 The women's centre model was only physically realised in Scotland's three main cities: Glasgow (for women with high/complex needs only), Edinburgh, and Aberdeen. CJSW-based services had dedicated teams or workers who coordinated holistic support for women either internally (if they had co-located multi-disciplinary practitioners) or externally through support to attend appointments; but often had limited space to provide drop-ins.

8.4 Rural areas provided the equivalent of a 'touring' community justice centre: a one stop shop or hub, which operated in different localities on set days each week, in addition to women's teams operating from CJSW premises. Projects in Kilmarnock, Aberdeenshire, Ayrshire and Forth Valley focussed on specific processes or a single intervention only. Regardless of model type, however, WCJSs improved access to holistic services for women, with an emphasis on outreach, flexibility, relationship building and practical support.

Recommendation 2: Multi-disciplinary teams (comprising, as a minimum, a criminal justice social worker, a health professional and an addictions worker, where relevant) are established in the Community Justice Centres to co-ordinate offending interventions and needs, reduce duplication of effort and make more efficient use of resources.

8.5 Multi-disciplinary support was provided in many guises and not necessarily by a core in-house team as the Commission envisaged. Multi-disciplinary practitioners were co-located in centres and in some larger WCJSs. In other services, multi-disciplinary practitioners regularly came into the service to deliver services such as clinics, 1:1 consultations, and attended drop-ins or community hubs to work with women on a more informal basis.

8.6 In all models, key workers also referred and supported women to attend appointments in the community, (e.g. GP services, Children and Families Social Work, and local housing departments). This provided a bridge between the WCJS and mainstream services, which was important to avoid dependency, and supported women to reintegrate into their community.

8.7 Nurses and support workers based in WCJSs often had backgrounds in addictions, but local authority addictions teams or third sector agencies outside of the WCJS typically provided specialist addiction support. Support for addictions was among the most likely areas in which women in WCJSs received support when they presented with need (see Table 8).

8.8 Practitioners emphasised the benefits of a co-located multi-disciplinary team in the coordination and the provision of holistic support for women. However, the composition of the team (particularly health workers) was important. Practitioners who were employed on local authority contracts rather than through the lead organisation directly (e.g. the NHS) were limited in their ability to access information through IT systems and make direct referrals to specialist support.

Recommendation 3: Women at risk of reoffending or custody should have a named key worker from the multi-disciplinary team as a single point of contact as they move through the criminal justice system, including any periods in custody, to co-ordinate the planning and delivery of interventions.

8.9 Women in all WCJSs had a named key worker. In most cases, this was their supervising officer or social worker, but in other situations this could be a nurse, support worker or other member of the multi-disciplinary team. The holistic (and flexible) nature of WCJSs (teams or centres) meant that although women had an allocated key worker, they felt comfortable speaking to any member of the team if their worker was unavailable.

8.10 The coordination and continuation of support for women between custody and the community (and vice versa) appeared less developed. While WCJSs aimed to visit women in prison, or provide gate pick ups, often women were in custody or released without the knowledge of the key worker. A few of the larger WCJSs (teams or centres) were working with SPS to develop communication channels and their ability to offer women modules in prison that they had been working on in the community.

8.11 While the evaluation focused upon the recommendations for the implementation of WCJSs, WCJSs were also referred to in other recommendations (though these were not necessarily within the scope of projects or the evaluation):

  • The Willow Centre (developed over a number of years) and Tomorrow's Women Glasgow were examples of WCJSs that had developed specialist mental health services by in-house NHS psychologists, which could be accessed by women in WCJSs with borderline personality disorder (Recommendation 7).
  • Some WCJSs were used as a diversion from prosecution (Recommendation 15). Eighty-two women were on diversion across ten WCJSs, though typically not in single-worker WCJSs models.
  • Few women entered WCJSs for reasons of bail supervision (Recommendation 17). Twenty-five women were on bail supervision across three WCJSs (22 of which were in one large and established WCJS).
  • The court-based screening service for women appearing at Kilmarnock Sheriff Custody, implemented by Ayrshire's Women Offenders Team, showed evidence of improved communication and awareness of alternatives to remand for Sheriffs. The findings suggest that the service contributed to informed bail decisions and helped to avoid unnecessary remands (Recommendation 19).
  • The Glen Isla Project in Angus provided an example of the effective use of a Rapid Report (Recommendation 21) in conjunction with the Women's Court. There was strong evidence to suggest that this contributed to practitioners being able to conduct 'meaningful breaches' with women on high tariffs quickly[100], with an observed improvement in women's engagement and compliance. Support for this approach and a shared understanding with sentencers and police about its aims was critical.

8.12 Overall, the aspirations of the Commission have been partially met. The intention and commitment to working with women differently has been embraced by these WCJSs and other women's services in Scotland. Dame Angiolini's vision for holistic services for women in the justice system is a work in progress, which has necessarily been adapted to meet local context and need.

8.13 Further opportunities remain for future initiative in WCJSs to refine and develop services, to expand on existing best practice outlined here, in the Commission, and the wider literature. However, the main challenge lies in ensuring that criminal and community justice services are integrated and connected with mainstream services so that women's needs are met regardless of where they are in the justice system, and they have support to help them move on from offending.


Email: Tamsyn Wilson

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