An innovative scheme aimed at steering low risk female offenders away from a life of crime has been launched in North Wales.
The Pathfinder pilot scheme which is aimed at women who commit crime or who are at risk of doing so was unveiled at a conference in Rhyl.
The scheme is operating from St Asaph and will work with women in Conwy, Denbighshire and Flintshire.
The Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, Julian Sandham, told delegates it was important to make an intervention with the women as early as possible to provide support and prevent future offending.
It was, he said, important for the women concerned and for society as a whole as it would help cut crime and therefore reduce the number of victims.
Mr Sandham said: “The Pathfinder scheme is supported locally through Home Office innovation funding and the aim is to divert women away from the criminal justice system and into the community support and intervention they need.
“It really is about intervening at the earliest possible opportunity and providing support to prevent further offending.
“Through achieving more positive outcomes for women it should ensure more positives outcomes for victims, families and the wider community. This work supports the Police and Crime Plan for North Wales.”
He added: “It features prevention and partnership working and it addresses violence against women and it addresses not just crime, but the causes of crime. Ultimately this is about giving help to people that need help.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how the Pathfinder project continues to develop in North Wales and to examining the results.”
According to Superintendent Jane Banham, from North Wales Police, the Pathfinder scheme was an opportunity to have a fresh look at how services are designed and delivered to meet the specific needs of women.
She explained that women are in a minority in the criminal justice system with 16 per cent of detainees coming into North Wales Police custody in the last year being female.
She said: “And I can say that just 15 per cent of the probation service caseload relates to female offenders and just five per cent of the prison population is female.
“However, despite the low numbers of women in the criminal justice system very little work has been done about how best to prevent women from reoffending.”
“Female offenders often have multiple, complex problems which contribute to their offending. And they are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than men, to self-harm, to have eating disorders and have mental illness.
“We know women are more likely to be primary carers of children and in some cases single parents. There are also significant differences between men and women’s patterns of offending.”
“At the same time, women are more likely to commit acquisitive crimes such as theft and shoplifting but are less likely to commit serious and violent crimes. And women who offend are more likely to be victims of crime themselves such as domestic violence and abuse, sexual abuse and exploitation and human trafficking.
“Women are also more likely than men to have a drug addiction to heroin or crack cocaine and be addicted to prescription drugs.
“If the underlying circumstances to women and men’s offending are different then it is critical a different approach is taken to meet the needs of women in order to break the cycle of offending as one size does not fit all.”
Since the Pathfinder scheme was launched in North Wales eight women have been placed on the scheme as part of their conditional cautions.
Supt Banham added: “Offences committed included assault police, criminal damage, drunk and disorderly public order offences and possession of a bladed article.
“I’m pleased to say none of these women have been arrested since being placed on the scheme and calls for service have been significantly but not entirely reduced.
“This is to be expected as some of the problems these women have are not easily solved and are long-term.”
“This is not about treating women more favourably, it’s about recognising that women face different hurdles to men in their journey towards a law abiding life.
“North Wales Police is fully committed to any initiative that enables and empowers women to take control of their lives, care for their children and address the causes of their offending so the best quality of service is provided to the victim, offender and the community.”
The conference was also addressed by Wendy Hyett, the Integrated Offender Management (IOM) Cymru Programme Manager.
She said: “It’s important this work is done through a multi-agency approach and improving co-operation between statutory and non-statutory partners. We can then achieve better outcomes for victims, the wider community and the women themselves.”