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.

5 The Role of Women's Community Justice Services in the Scottish Criminal Justice System

Key findings

  • While WCJSs supported women across multiple stages of the criminal justice system, they mostly supported and/or supervised women serving community sentences, referred from courts or CJSW.
  • Centres, and larger or more established WCJSs were more likely to engage women from multiple stages in the criminal justice system and referral sources, and to engage women on a voluntary basis. This may highlight the practical limits of smaller or single-worker WCJSs.
  • Over half (68%) of women in WCJSs were statutorily obliged to attend the service, mostly under a community payback order (CPO). The remaining women engaged voluntarily (32%) although they may have had an order supervised outwith the WCJS.
  • Ten percent of women in WCJSs had entered whilst either in custody (5%), or on statutory throughcare (2%) or voluntary throughcare (3%). Many WCJSs described throughcare as an area of on-going or future development.
  • A small proportion of women in WCJSs were receiving support while on diversion. Few WCJSs undertook preventative work in the early stages of the criminal justice system, however a few WCJSs are continuing to develop such support.


This section discusses the interventions that WCJSs undertook with the funding to support women at different stages of the criminal justice system. This includes diversion (and prevention), court activities, community disposals, and throughcare.

5.1 While WCJSs operate at all stages of the criminal justice system, they predominantly focus on supporting and/or supervising women serving community sentences (Table 6), referred from courts or CJSW. In total, 1,017 women were serving CPOs and Drug Treatment Testing Orders (DTTOs) (to a much lesser extent) in WCJSs. This represents about a third of the 3,000 women who receive community sentences in Scotland each year.[23]

5.2 To a lesser extent, WCJSs supported or supervised women in custody,[24] on throughcare, or subject to diversion from prosecution. Several WCJSs aimed to broaden referral pathways for women at early stages (or at risk) of entering the justice system.

5.3 It was more common for centres, and larger or more established WCJS teams to work with women at multiple points across the criminal justice system and receive referrals from a broader range of sources than smaller services. Few WCJS had the remit or resources to consistently work with women at all stages of the justice system. However, there were examples where practitioners continued to work with individual women at different stages (e.g. prison), even if they were not formally tasked to do so.

Table 6: Main reason for engagement with WCJSs and referral source

Women in 15 WCJSs (1 April - 31 December 2014) 1,778
Main reason for engaging
'Early intervention'/arrest referral* 36 2%
Diversion 82 5%
Court Screening Service** 183 10%
Bail supervision 25 1%
Structured deferred sentence 43 2%
Community Payback Order 995 56%
Drug Treatment and Testing Order (DTTO) 22 1%
Custody (4 years or under) 51 3%
Custody (over 4 years) 26 1%
Throughcare (voluntary) 45 3%
Throughcare (statutory) 37 2%
Self-referral 26 1%
Other 44 2%
Unknown 163 9%
Source of referral
Sheriff Court 1,002 56%
Criminal Justice Social Work 338 19%
Procurator Fiscal 82 5%
Scottish Prison Service 78 4%
Other sources 33 2%
Third sector organisations 28 2%
NHS/Health professional†† 20 1%
Self-referral 21 1%
Justice of the Peace Court 12 1%
Police 14 1%
Unknown 150 8%

Note: Total percentages may not equal 100% due to rounding
* Includes preventative support for women identified as at risk of further offending but not yet convicted, referred by police (at point of arrest), CJSW or partner agencies (e.g. NHS or third sector) rather than courts.
** Applies exclusively to Kilmarnock's Court Action Note service
Includes all 183 women in Kilmarnock's Court Action Note service
†† Applies exclusively to Willow Centre, predominantly women in custody/on throughcare.

Community disposals

5.4 All WCJSs (except Sacro's EEI pilot in Ayrshire) were run by (or in partnership with) CJSW departments, which supervise community sentences. In most WCJSs, practitioners supervised women serving court orders. Though in some cases women's orders (if any) were supervised by a local CJSW team outwith the service.

5.5 Overall, two thirds (68%)[25] of women in WCJSs were statutorily obliged to attend to satisfy requirements of a court order (Table 7). Typically this was for 12 months or less, although approximately one third were completing longer sentences. The proportions of women attending WCJSs on a statutory basis varied considerably across WCJSs from 6-100%. This reflected the different characteristics of the WCJSs; centres and targeted interventions had a greater proportion of women attending voluntarily, for example, compared to WCJSs in which all female CJSW cases were allocated and supervised by the women's worker or teams. See section 6.50 for discussion on the use of statutory compliance and women's engagement in WCJSs.

5.6 The majority of women under a statutory order were subject to a CPO (87%), of whom most had a supervision requirement (69%) and/or had to undertake unpaid work (52%). Women's attendance in WCJSs (e.g. for therapeutic activities, groupwork or vocational learning) can be used for a proportion (30% or a maximum of 30 hours) of the unpaid work hours. The remaining women were largely subject to diversion, structured deferred sentences, DTTO, in custody, or statutory throughcare (2-3% across each respectively).

5.7 Other women engaged with WCJSs voluntarily (32%), although many still had an order supervised by a CJSW practitioner outwith the WCJS. Smaller or single-worker WCJSs had very few or no women engaged on a voluntary basis, which may indicate their limited capacity to work with women other than those on statutory orders.

Table 7: Statutory or voluntary attendance in WCJSs

Women in 14 WCJSs* (1 April - 31 December 2014) 1,363
Statutory 933 68%
With Community Payback Order (CPO) 815 87%
With other order 118 13%
Voluntary** 430 32%

* Excludes 183 women from Kilmarnock Court Action Note service (not applicable for women appearing in court) and 232 women with unknown engagement type.
** This includes women with orders supervised by CJSW practitioners outwith the WCJS or project. See Table 6 for full breakdown of order types/main reason for engaging in WCJSs.


5.8 Throughcare refers to support provided from the point of sentence or remand, during imprisonment, and following release in the community. Local provision and CJSW structural arrangements for throughcare varied, and often involved agencies or teams outwith the WCJS.[26]

5.9 Ten WCJSs provided support for 159 women who entered whilst in custody, or under statutory or voluntary throughcare (Box 3). WCJSs' largely described providing support for women pre-release (i.e. while still in custody) and immediately thereafter. This included meeting with women in prison to identify their needs prior to release, gate-pickups, and providing holistic support as available to all women in WCJSs.

5.10 In addition, practitioners described supporting women in WCJSs if they returned to custody. Maintaining contact if women returned to custody was highly valued by some women interviewed:

"[While back in prison] I got the support of my key workers coming in every week to see that I was coping [...] I felt that they believed in me and they believed that I was wanting to try because I felt like nobody wanted to listen to me anymore […] They said, "Right, you fell down but we're here for you and if you want to come back out, we're willing to take you back" […] they never gave up on me."
- Mary (late 50s), service user

5.11 However, practitioners reported limited contact with women on remand, due in part to the quick turnaround time. Remand was acknowledged to have a potentially damaging effect on women's circumstances:

"We don't usually have a lot to do with women on remand, unfortunately. […] Sometimes the person comes out and their life is in chaos. It's the equivalent of having a two-month sentence if you're coming out in four weeks. All sorts of things have gone wrong. And because they've not had a custodial sentence, there's not the same kind of service available."
- Practitioner, WCJS Women's Team

5.12 WCJSs supported individuals in prison, rather than delivering formal programmes to women in custody with the exception of Willow Centre, which provided health-focused work (Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)) to women and SPS staff training, and Highland WCJS where women attended groupwork on day release from Inverness Community Integration Unit.

5.13 Overall, many WCJSs identified gaps in throughcare for women and/or described it as an area for on-going or future development (e.g. developing stronger referral pathways). Some WCJSs were developing their links with prisons and offender mentoring services to facilitate smoother transition and coordinated support for women on release. These were organisations also undergoing periods of change or development, which resulted in delays in partnership working while they established their own internal links and systems. Several WCJSs had to clarify roles with mentoring services and other agencies to ensure coordination and avoid duplication.

Box 3: Women in throughcare in WCJSs

Ten percent[27] of all women in WCJSs entered WCJSs either whilst in custody[28] (5%) or on statutory[29] (2%) or voluntary[30] (3%) throughcare[31]. In urban areas the total proportion of women who engaged with WCJSs for these reasons rose to between 13% and 22%[32]. Smaller WCJSs with one CJSW women's worker were less likely to work with this group of women, with the exception of Highland.

Women in custody or on throughcare were referred predominantly from SPS, and then CJSW or Sheriff Courts. Referrals for voluntary throughcare were most likely to come from SPS (64%). This underlines one practitioner's remarks that WCJSs' link with SPS was critical because they relied on SPS staff to promote the service to women.

TWG, which focused on women with high/complex needs, was the only WCJS with an SPS officer co-located in the service. Evidence suggests this worked well to engage women on voluntary throughcare. Women and practitioners reported a growing awareness of the service among women in prison and an increase in direct SPS referrals (22% of women in TWG were in custody or on throughcare).

Complex needs of women in custody or throughcare

Women who entered WCJSs while in custody or on throughcare were more likely to have needs in substance misuse (75%), housing (59%), and finances (49%) compared to other women in WCJSs (58%, 37% and 38% respectively).

Diversion (and prevention)

5.14 Most WCJSs (10) worked with a small proportion of women who were referred for diversion from prosecution by Procurator Fiscals or CJSW (5% of all women in WCJSs). Smaller or single worker WCJSs were less likely to support women on diversion.

5.15 Three WCJSs also reported working with a small number of women (36) identified as at risk of further offending but not yet been convicted who were referred by police (at point of arrest), CJSW or partner agencies (e.g. NHS or third sector) rather than courts. The project implemented in Ayrshire focused exclusively on women referred at the point of police involvement (see Box 4 below).

5.16 Two other WCJSs also aimed to broaden their reach to include women at the earliest stage of their entry to the criminal justice system. However, one put efforts on hold due to competing priorities in implementing their new service, and another (with plans for police-based screening service, under separate funding) was delayed with approvals required from the Procurator Fiscal.

5.17 The modest number of referrals and experiences of WCJSs indicated that developing diversionary and preventative services is an area still under development. Such initiatives are dependent on multi-agency commitments, legislative or system change (police do not currently have the power under legislation to formally divert women from prosecution to WCJSs[33]), and the capacity of WCJSs to deliver them.

Box 4: Early and Effective Intervention (EEI) project, Ayrshire

Description of service

The project team consisted of a Sacro coordinator and part-time occupational therapist (OT) (who was not part of the funding). The project team worked with women involved in low-level offences to address needs that may have contributed to their offending. In total, 13 women who met the eligibility criteria were referred from Kilmarnock's Police Crime Management Unit at the point of arrest. Care was taken to avoid up-tariffing women who could be effectively managed via existing police disposals.

The team linked women into local services and/or provided individualised support for a period of three months. Participation was voluntary; women who declined the support or failed to engage with workers had their case returned to the Police.

Testing a 'signposting' only service

The final shape of the service differed from the original intention, which was to develop a 'signposting' model in a rural area. Rather than the coordinator convening multi-agency meetings to agree a shared action plan and signposting women to support, the role became more 'hands on', enabled in part by the small number of women initially in the service. Women were assessed in person (typically in their homes) to agree an action plan (the majority presented with mental health needs) and women received holistic support, sometimes by the team themselves. Therefore, arguably a 'signpost-only' model may still yet to be fully tested.

That said, the experience of the team suggests that the intended desk-based approach was not realistic; face-to-face visits with women were necessary to appropriately assess their needs and circumstances (which otherwise relied on limited referral information from police) and to develop a rapport with women. Multi-agency meetings were not warranted in most cases because the complexity of women's needs were low and did not justify involvement across multiple agencies. Overall this suggests that this type of intervention can be 'light-touch' but may still require practitioners to establish a relationship with women to maximise their engagement and coordinate appropriate support.

Outcomes of the holistic support for women in this project are incorporated with overall findings in Section 7.

Court activities

5.18 WCJSs carried out various activities related to the courts. Practitioners with statutory responsibilities for women's cases wrote court reports to inform decisions, supported women already in WCJSs to appear in court, and/or developed referral pathways with third sector agencies and CJSW court teams to link women who appeared in court into WCJSs.

5.19 One project was exclusively court-based. Ayrshire's Women Offenders Team introduced a Court Action Note process to inform bail/remand decisions for women who appeared in court (see Box 5). Outcomes are included with the description below.

Box 5: Court Action Note project, Kilmarnock Sheriff Custody Court

Description of service

The Court Action Note (CAN) process was developed and is delivered by practitioners (1 FTE) from Ayrshire's Women Offender's Team, located in Kilmarnock Custody Court. It supports the Commission's recommendations to improve communication and awareness of alternatives to remand in custody.

Practitioners provide Sheriffs with independent information for women who appear in court to inform remand/bail decisions. The Court Action Note (CAN) contains details about a woman's circumstances (e.g. housing, domestic abuse concerns, mental health, addiction issues, and her engagement with services or support in the community). In addition, practitioners issue reminders to women about upcoming court appearances and where possible, link them to services in the community to help women not to breach bail conditions.


In total, practitioners issued 231 CANs for 183 women from the beginning of the project in June 2014 to 31 December 2014:

  • The majority of women (62%, 114) were bailed at their initial hearing. The twenty-five women who were remanded in custody were younger, had higher LS/CMI scores and a greater prevalence of housing and substance misuse issues than women who received bail. This suggests that, with information provided in the CAN, the Sherriff was better informed to make decisions as to whether bail or remand is more appropriate for women. For example, practitioners reported that women with no accommodation and/or not engaging with support were difficult for the Sheriff to release on bail. One Sherriff interviewed regarded the CAN as a 'valuable tool' due to its independence and the factual content it provided early on.
  • Practitioners proposed a bail support plan for 36 women to the Sherriff (i.e. a package of support from community providers if women were released on bail, e.g. Sacro's bail supervision service, Women's Aid, or addictions services). Three quarters of these women were granted bail and only five were remanded.* This suggests that, with links to support in place, some women may have avoided remand in custody.

Lessons learned

Overall, the practitioners identified gaps in support for women in remand or leaving court on bail, particularly for women without an existing community order. Unmet needs included addictions, mental health, housing, and links with children in care. Lack of support in some cases was due to the limited capacity or eligibility criteria of existing agencies. Where possible, practitioners worked with throughcare workers and third sector partners to ensure women had access to support, though strictly speaking this was outside the project scope.

* 27 women received bail, five were remanded and four cases were closed


Email: Tamsyn Wilson

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