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Women Offenders

Volume 560: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2013

1. What assessment he has made of the value of the work done by women’s centres with women offenders; and if he will make a statement. (148573)

Women’s centres are a key element in our approach to women in the criminal justice system. Since April 2012, we have been monitoring referrals made by probation trusts to the 31 women’s centres funded by the National Offender Management Service. Feedback indicates that users, staff and magistrates see the centres as a valuable resource.

May I first declare an interest as chair of Commonweal, a charity that established the Re-Unite programme, which helps women offenders to reunite with their children when they come out of prison? The programme is run by many women’s centres and those we have been working with are anxious about their future funding and about the lack of strategy from the Ministry for women offenders and women in the criminal justice system. Will the Minister meet me, together with representatives from the women’s centres, to reassure them about future funding for the wonderful programmes they run?

I am happy to meet the hon. Lady, and I hope to reassure her. During the last few weeks, I have been visiting women’s centres around the country, in Gloucester, Reading and London, and I have been very impressed by what I have seen. Overall, I want to see more provision for women in areas where it does not exist at the moment. I also want existing provision in the centres deepened and strengthened further. Funding may be readjusted for some services; there has to be redistribution and some centres may have to do a little more with less, but I assure the hon. Lady that funding is continuing and we are increasing it by £300,000 for this financial year.

I visited the excellent Dawn projects in Cambridge and Peterborough, where they do a huge amount of work with female ex-offenders and save the state far more than they cost to run. They are both concerned about the future of their funding. The Minister has given some reassurance, but can she give further reassurance that the Dawn project will continue to get the support it needs?

I cannot comment on individual cases at this stage, but we are engaged with all 31 centres. New ones are coming on board too. We are still in the middle of commissioning so it would not be appropriate for me to go into that level of detail.

These excellent centres are facing problems financially, as the Minister appreciates. She will also appreciate that on a cost-benefit analysis, short-term expenditure will pay dividends; it will keep women out of the prison estate, without further costs for children in care and so on. Ultimately it is a great investment.

I certainly agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We are determined to see fewer women offending and reoffending. We want to make appropriate provision for female offenders that addresses the root causes of their offending and their specific needs.