Since the launch of SHE in September 2014, one of the areas I am interested in is how the community accepts women back into the community following a custodial sentence.
While I appreciate there is a place in society for a women’ prison estate, I am still of the mind too many women are being locked up for offences that could be managed in the community.
Taking nothing away from men, when a woman is sentenced to custody, the social impact is vast. Research has given me a wider scope of how much support there is in the community and it is hard to argue there is not. However, the bigger picture is missed.
The women referred to SHE have mostly come from custody & have been in the community for some weeks. If no licence is in place, these women are on probation and are hooked into various agencies voluntarily. Those who are with local substance support services are bound by a prescription for Methadone & work with groups to move forward from substance misuse. SHE is not involved in this area, it is not our remit. Community support within their accommodation is. It is the area of accommodation, that is most overlooked.
To answer the sub-heading, ‘why?’ I am still amazed at how little emphasis is placed on stabilising accommodation. A lack of housing/accommodation is a social problem, not a criminal offence. During my travails, the lack of housing was my immediate need. This affected my whole being in not having access to hot water, cooking facilities, access to a GP, a bank account. This is a social impact and I was not even on the grid of society. This is apparent in other agencies who view SHE as a competitor for localised services.
Yet, SHE as a tiny support service recognises the social impact of a woman returning to the community. This is a social impact we at SHE handle with a nuturing approach. The majority of our lasses have family, children & some have elderly parents they care for. Family support is proven to lessen the chance of reoffending. Education is vital, but none so vital as a woman returning to her family. Cramming a woman’s day with appointments prior to securing safe & stable accommodation is futile. It is pleasing to my ears the powers in East Lancashire are recognising this. When I opened the doors of SHE, I was truly up against other services. It has taken eight months to dig the trenches from the community and sustain a service that is so badly needed.
The benefits of offering shared accommodation to women enable a natural transition to other support networks. An address opens up pathways for other support to activate. An address ensures the services of a GP, bank accounts, reduces community crime & swifter access to all areas any citizen is entitled to.
But it does not come cheap. SHE does not take deposits, we do not charge outside the housing benefit cap, we have looked at the simple need that was being overlooked. Safe & secure accommodation for women returning to their community.
Asset Based Community Development (ABCD)
It is as simple as ABC…. When any woman has served her time, do we as a society have a duty to ensure her return to the community is not blocked by red tape & mindless bureaucracy?
Do communities not fair better when pathways are opened up in order for a woman to settle back home & become a neighbour, friend, family member & where children are involved, a mother? Children deserve this more than any Payment by Results box-ticking exercise.
In communities that are challenged daily with crime, high rates of unemployment, is it not beneficial to clear blocked pathways & make way for social inclusion for women returning to their communities?
Because, if we do not, & do what we always did, we will certainly get what we always got.