Merseyside’s Deputy Police Commissioner has welcomed the introduction of a women-only review court which aims to reduce the number of females who are sent to prison.
The women-only review courts will be held monthly from March 1st at the Complex Case Court which sits at Sefton Magistrates Court. They will examine the cases of females sentenced to community orders or suspended sentences with requirements, who will be invited to attend hearings where progress reports will be provided by their offender manager.
The review hearings will provide an all-female environment where cases can be evaluated and where issues can be identified and addressed, with the aim of preventing problems from escalating to the point where the women may breach their orders, potentially triggering a prison sentence. Attendees will be encouraged to engage with the order and be open about issues which may be affecting them in the hope that, where possible, they can be resolved.
The review hearings will be available to female offenders sentenced at Liverpool, Knowsley and St Helens Magistrates’ Court.
Up until now, the Complex Case Court has provided a system for reviews where both men and women’s orders were considered, but by providing dedicated women-only courts the aim is to create an atmosphere which encourages better communication and understanding of the issues facing female offenders.
The introduction of the specialist courts follows a visit by the Police Commissioner, Jane Kennedy, and Deputy Police Commissioner, Cllr Emily Spurrell, to similar courts running in Manchester. Proposals to launch them in Merseyside were then discussed and reviewed at a roundtable event focussed on implementing the Ministry of Justice’s long-awaited Female Offender Strategy chaired by the Deputy Police Commissioner and attended by a host of criminal justice partners.
Deputy Police Commissioner, Cllr Emily Spurrell, said: “For more than 40 years, it has been widely agreed – by academics, legislators, reform organisations, charities and political parties – that it is not appropriate that women offenders are dealt with in the same way as their male counterparts; that there needs to be a ‘distinct’ approach to women in the criminal justice system.
“We know that the vast majority of women who come into contact with the criminal justice system have experienced significant adversities before they do so – whether that may be due to exploitation as a child or as an adult, because of domestic abuse or sexual violence, alcohol or substance misuse.
“We also know that they may face additional complexities in adhering to orders, due to issues including child care, mental health and appropriate housing. As a result, the road into – and out of – offending behaviour can be very different for women compared to men.
“That means our approach to how we treat women in the criminal justice system should be appropriately tailored. I enthusiastically welcome the introduction of these women-only review courts as a way of improving how the cases of female offenders are handled, with the over-arching aim of reducing the number who end up behind bars. They are a step in the right direction and, I hope, will form part of a series of reforms aimed at finding effective remedies to the struggles, needs and vulnerabilities of female offenders.”