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Vulnerable women’s scheme in Dorset commended at the Howard League Community Awards

A partnership between Dorset Police, The Footprints Project and Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) was given a special commendation at the Howard League Community Awards for a scheme which supports vulnerable women and reduces reoffending.

Vulnerable women’s scheme in Dorset commended at the Howard League Community Awards

The Footprints Female Out of Court Diversionary Scheme works with women who have committed and admitted low level offences, but are identified by the Police as vulnerable. They are issued with an out of court disposal and given the opportunity to take part in this rehabilitative scheme. 

The 2020 Howard League Community Awards recognise the country’s successful community projects encouraging progressive reforms in relation to criminal justice. The Footprints Female Out of Court Diversionary Scheme was one of nine projects to be shortlisted in the Women’s category at the virtual ceremony on Wednesday 20 October. This category considered gender-specific early interventions for females who come into contact with the Criminal Justice System.

Judges gave the scheme a special commendation after being particularly struck by high levels of engagement, the level of monitoring and outcomes, and the positive feedback from women who have been through the scheme.

Launched by Dorset Police in April 2019, the service is provided by The Footprints Project. It has been funded by Dorset Police and the Dorset PCC.

Support workers work with women referred to the scheme by Dorset Police for a maximum period of 16 weeks to address vulnerabilities such as mental health problems, coercive or controlling relationships, domestic abuse, and committing lower level crimes to support their family.

Between April 2019 and September 2020, 130 women were referred to the Footprints Female Diversionary Scheme. Of the 86 which reached the six-month post-disposal point, which is where re-offending begins to be recorded, 93.1% have not reoffended.

Jen Howard, Adult Out of Court Disposals Manager for Dorset Police, says: “Evidence shows that female offenders often have more complex needs than men and do not always benefit from short-term prison sentences.

“Dorset Police is committed to supporting vulnerable people and better understanding how certain circumstances can lead to these offences. Supporting these individuals to address the things that make them vulnerable can ultimately stop reoffending and help them lead happier and more fulfilled lives.

“This commendation is a recognition of how working collaboratively with our partners can make the difference in supporting our most vulnerable communities – the evidence speaks for itself.”

For many, the scheme provides them with support that they never knew existed or that they simply haven’t been able to access before. It provides a safe space to talk about their issues and understand that there is another way forward for them.

Support provided is dependent on the individual needs of the women, but often includes housing, drug or alcohol rehabilitation, employment support or help with finances and budgeting.

Caroline Stevens, CEO of The Footprints Project, says: “I am really pleased that we’ve been recognised as part of such a prestigious event. I want to extend our congratulations to Trevi House as winners in a very strong category.

“The starting point for the women we work with is lending them a supportive ear, listening to what’s happened to them, and understanding what support they actually need. Many have never been given the opportunity to talk to someone in this way before.

“I am proud of what we’ve achieved in the first year of the scheme and know we will see so many more positive stories still to come.”

Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said: “Nationally, the vast majority of women who serve sentences of less than 12 months end up reoffending within a year – and that is a situation in which there are no winners.

“I’m proud to have provided funding enabling this project to break the revolving door of reoffending, and I’m glad to see it receive the national recognition it deserves through having been commended for this prestigious award.”

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