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.

4 Characteristics of the Women in Services

Key findings

  • WCJSs delivered services to 1,778 women between 1 April and 31 December 2014. On average, women were aged 34 years and the majority were White British.
  • Half of all women were mothers; one third of women lived with their children, while just over one third had access to their children in the care of others. Combined, they were mothers to almost 1,600 children.
  • Women often entered WCJSs with multiple and complex needs. Prevalent needs included poor mental/emotional health (78%), lack of work or training (61%), substance misuse (59%), poor problem-solving skills (59%), and problematic family or social relationships (58%). There was also an indication of high rates of trauma or abuse, where measured.
  • Women were likely to have medium to very high LS/CMI scores, and more likely to have previous convictions than not.
  • In general, WCJSs were successful in reaching their intended client group, although, some experienced practitioners were surprised at the complexity of women's needs.
  • Tools other than LS/CMI assessment scores may be required to determine eligibility for services in voluntary (or preventative) settings.


This section describes the demographics, presenting needs, and offending history of women (service users) in WCJSs, and the extent to which WCJSs reached the women they intended. Information in this section is summarised in Tables 3-5 with detailed tables in Annex F.

4.1 In total, 1,778[12] women were recorded in 15 WCJSs[13] between 1 April and 31 December 2014 (the evaluation period). (Most women were attending on a statutory basis serving community sentences (e.g. community payback Orders (CPO)); see details in section 5).

4.2 In general, practitioners reported that they worked with the women they expected to, but some experienced challenges in extending services to women beyond the supervision of community sentences. Many also highlighted that they had not anticipated the complexity of the needs of women they worked with. This may in part be due to some practitioners shifting to all-women caseloads (see section 3.26).


4.3 The mean age of the 1,778 women in WCJSs was 34 years. In most WCJSs, fewer than one in four women were younger than 26 years (with the exception of Glen Isla and Highland who worked with slightly younger cohorts of women). The youngest women were 16 years and the oldest were in their late 60s.[14] The pattern of age groups was broadly consistent with those of women who received community sentences in Scotland (in 2013/14).[15]

4.4 The majority (92%, 1,643) of women were of White British background (with the remaining 8% comprising of mixed ethnicity, Other White, and Gypsy/Traveller, African, Caribbean, Black or Black British, Asian or Asian British, and Polish), consistent with the population at large in Scotland (see Annex F for details).[16] As expected, diversity was greater among women in WCJSs in the larger cities. Some practitioners observed that they worked with few women from other minority groups (e.g. LGBT or disability communities).

4.5 Almost half of women in WCJSs (48%, 851) had at least one child aged under 16. One third of women lived with their children, but just over a one third of women had access to their children in the care of others (see Box 1). This indicates a population of mothers for whom support in terms of maintaining links and building positive relationships with their children is relevant.

Box 1: Mothers in WCJSs

Combined, women were mothers to almost 1,600 children. In addition, practitioners reported a minority of women in their services who were pregnant on entry or became pregnant while in the service, had caring responsibilities for grandchildren, had children over 16 at home or children with disabilities.

Table 3: Living and access arrangements of women's children in WCJSs

Women in WCJSs between 1 April and 31 December 2014 (1,778)

Women with dependent children (aged under 16) 851 48%
Lived with her 278 33%
Unrestricted or supervised access 304 36%
No access 170 20%
Unknown 99 12%

Note: Total percentage may not equal 100% due to rounding

Not unexpectedly (and without implying causal effect), compared to women who lived with their children, women whose children did not live with them were more likely to have:

  • a high or very-high LS/CMI score (53% compared to 10%)
  • poor or unstable housing (45% compared to 16%)
  • serious or unstable substance misuse (68% compared to 27%)
  • zero or poor family relationships/support (75% compared to 37%)
  • very poor mental health on entry to the WCJS (54% compared to 25%).

Presenting needs

4.6 Presenting needs data was available for 737 women who entered between April and December 2014.[17] Practitioners recorded women's needs against 14 issues (detailed in Annex D). These included factors linked to offending (i.e. criminogenic needs[ix] such as substance misuse and employment) and indicators of 'readiness to change' (e.g. views and beliefs that supported desistance, willingness to work on problems, and the skills to solve everyday problems).

4.7 Women often entered WCJSs with complex needs. On average women entered with an average of six out of the 14 needs (Figure 2).[18] The findings were consistent with the known difficulties that feature disproportionately among women in the criminal justice system.[x]

4.8 Women were most likely to present with poor mental and emotional health (78%), lack of purposeful activities such as work or training (61%) or positive ways to spend their time (52%), substance misuse (59%) and difficulties solving everyday problems independently (59%).

4.9 Over half (58%) of women who entered WCJSs also had challenging social relations, such as a lack of positive support from family or friends, which is known to promote desistance. Relationships with others was a common thread throughout women's interviews, and many women's lives featured isolation, bereavement, family breakdown, removal of children, and trauma.

4.10 A few WCJSs chose to consistently record women who presented with a history of domestic violence, abuse, or trauma (in addition to the other needs). Of the 100 women in the three WCJSs that did so, 70% (range: 55-89%)[19] entered with a history or symptoms of abuse.

Figure 2: Presenting needs of women in WCJSs

Figure 2: Presenting needs of women in WCJSs

For 737 women who entered WCJSs 1 April - 31 December 2014
√ Criminogenic need[20] (associated with the risk of offending)

4.11 Women were least likely to have physical or sexual health needs, or views or attitudes that supported crime. However, low prevalence in any area may in part reflect areas in which women were unlikely to reveal information (and workers unlikely to ask) until trusting relationships were established. It was suspected amongst practitioners that sexual health needs were underreported. In two WCJSs where women received a full health assessment on entry, sexual health needs were identified for 20% and 42% of women, compared to just 9% in WCJSs overall.

4.12 The prevalence of women with housing issues (i.e. unsafe, unstable or no accommodation) appeared lower than expected. However this may reflect the comparative stability of women in WCJSs serving community sentences. Housing issues were more common for women in WCJSs who were recorded as being in custody or on throughcare (a group for whom housing is a known challenge)[i] (59%) compared to women engaged with WCJSs for all other reasons (37%).

4.13 Women who presented with both substance misuse and housing issues were identified by practitioners as a particular group of women who presented with particularly complex needs (Box 2).

Box 2: Women with substance misuse and housing needs

During interviews, some practitioners referred to women 'in chaos' who presented to WCJSs with both substance misuse and housing needs.

In most WCJSs, between a quarter and a third of women fitted this profile. The proportion was even higher (over half of all entrants) in Tomorrow's Women Glasgow, a centre for women with high and complex needs/risk.

Table 4 profiles the 215 women who had both substance misuse and housing needs alongside all other women in WCJSs (with recorded needs). On average, these women were younger. Although half of them were mothers, they were much less likely to have their children living with them. They presented with a higher incidence of (and more complex) needs, and were more likely to have had a recent or current period in prison.

Table 4: Profile of women with combined substance misuse and housing needs

Women who entered 13 WCJSs between 1 April and 31 December 2014 with presenting needs recorded (737)

Women with both substance misuse and housing needs
All other women
Average age 32 35
Had dependent children 53% 49%
Lived with her children (of those with dependent children) 11% 45%
Presented with at least six or more support needs 83% 25%
Presented with a mental health need 91% 73%
Had trauma-related needs (e.g. domestic violence, abuse)* 91% 67%
Engaged in WCJS whilst in custody or throughcare 18% 7%
High/very-high LS/CMI 48% 21%
Was engaging with services 50% 70%

* Based on data of 100 women in three WCJSs who consistently recorded women who presented with a history of domestic violence, abuse, or trauma.

Offending history

4.14 Women in WCJSs were likely to have previous convictions; only one in five women in WCJSs were first time offenders (Table 5). One-third of these first-time offenders were older women over 40 years, who tended to be lower risk and have fewer needs relative to women overall.

4.15 Offence type was collected, but due to inconsistencies between WCJSs in the interpretation of offence type, this data is not reported.

Table 5: Criminal justice profile of women in WCJSs

Women in 15 WCJSs (1 April - 31 December 2014) 1,778
Current orders
None 445 25%
One or more 1,144 64%
Unknown 189 11%
Has previous convictions
None 334 19%
Has previous convictions 829 46%
Unknown 615 35%
LS/CMI score
Low/very-low 233 13%
Medium 346 19%
High/very high 372 21%
Unknown 463 26%
Not applicable 364 20%

Note: Total percentages may not equal 100% due to rounding

4.16 Level of Service/Case Management Inventory (LS/CMI) is a tool used to assess an individual's likelihood of further offending and circumstances to inform intervention decisions. Scores were not applicable or easily available for almost half of the women in WCJSs.[21] However, most women for whom LS/CMI scores were available were assessed as having medium, high, or very-high risk/need (Table 5).

4.17 TWG had expected to use high or very-high LS/CMI scores as a means to target support for women with complex needs and risk of offending. However, practitioners found this approach had limitations because not all women had a recent LS/CMI score on record[22] (e.g. women on voluntary throughcare). Furthermore, practitioners identified eight women with low or medium LS/CMI scores who, based on their current complex circumstances or high vulnerability, were still considered eligible for the service (e.g. young women leaving care without a long history of offending who would not score highly in LS/CMI). This suggests that tools other than (or alongside) LS/CMI may be required to determine eligibility in voluntary (or preventative) settings.


Email: Tamsyn Wilson

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