A safe, just and equal world for women

Community support for women, instead of Prison, breaks the cycle of re-offending

November 22, 2021
London’s Women Diversion Service was launched in September 2019 led by Advance in partnership across four London boroughs.

The service aims to work with women who have committed lower-level offences in London at point of arrest and is funded by MOPAC, delivering on London’s Blueprint for Women in the Criminal Justice System.

  • Advance launches its report ‘Women need women who support them’ today
  • The London Women’s Diversion Service reduces re-arrests of supported women
  • 67% of the women reported mental health needs; 65% reported experiencing domestic abuse
  • Advance calls for funding of community support for all women nationally, instead of more prisons

A new report by Advance out today 21 November 2021 reveals that

  • Community support and access to Women’s Centres resulted in only 7% of the women referred with conditional cautions being re-arrested after engaging with the Diversion Service.
  • All women reported improvements after receiving support, with sustainable impact after exiting the service: 89% reported improved mental health and well-being, 100% said they were safer from domestic abuse and 93% reported a reduced likelihood of reoffending.
  • Of the women surveyed three months after support ended, 100% of women said they were less likely to reoffend, 100% felt the support received had a positive impact on their children and 74% are either in employment or in education.
Read Women need women who support them

Advance, the charity which supports women experiencing trauma and abuse to be safe and lead the lives they choose, demonstrated the impact specialist community support for women can have on reducing the likelihood of reoffending. According to the Ministry of Justice, women are more likely than men to be sent to prison for a first-time offence (1) and are more likely to reoffend following a short-term prison sentence for a minor crime such theft or criminal damage (2).

We know that women in contact with the criminal justice system report multiple needs and trauma at a higher rate than men, and specifically 71% of women report mental health needs (3) compared to 47% of men; 53% women report experiences of childhood abuse (4) compared to 27% of men; 60% of women who offend report experiencing domestic abuse (5) and 46% report problematic substance misuse (3) on entry to prison compared to 27% of men.

Advance has secured funding from the Mayor of London to extend its London Women’s Diversion Service, which aims to tackle violence against women and girls by addressing women’s needs, and to reduce the number of women in custody and women’s reoffending rates.

Launched as a pilot two years ago, in September 2019, in partnership with three specialist organisations, the Diversion Service works with women who have committed low-level offences to reduce their likelihood of reoffending. Rather than being charged and sentenced, women from the age of 18 are referred, at the point of arrest, by the Metropolitan Police to Advance and its partners. Women then receive one-to-one support and attend groups and activities in our community Women’s Centres to address the circumstances that led them to commit offences. Women share their experiences of trauma, including domestic abuse, mental ill-health, problematic substance use and homelessness.

Advance’s Diversion Service is more cost-effective than prison. Advance estimates that the cost of providing holistic community support at our women’s centres is £2,126 per woman on average, and this varies depending on her need. The Prison Reform Trust estimates that a place in prison costs £52,121.

Niki Scordi, Chief Executive of Advance, said:

“More often than not, women’s offending is linked to their own experiences of trauma and abuse, and prosecuting them fails to address these root causes, continuing the cycle of reoffending. Rather than removing a woman from her community – risking the loss of her home, her job and her children– we offer women the holistic support they need where they live, while reducing their likelihood of re-offending.

“We know that prison does not work for women who have committed low-level offences, with 3 out of 4 there for committing non-violent offences and are imprisoned for a matter of months, with devastating effects to their and their children’s lives.

“We welcome the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime’s continued funding for our service, which addresses the women’s often multiple needs, improving justice outcomes for them, their families and the community. We call on investment in diversion services for women across all London and nationally, rather than more prison places.”

Sophie Linden, London’s Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, said:

“We know that women serving prison sentences need specific support to turn their lives around. Too many women are sent to prison for first time offences, leading to them losing contact with their families and being without the support systems and stability they desperately need. Their experiences and needs have been overlooked for far too long and it is vital we do everything we can to prevent reoffending and give support to those that need to turn their lives around.

“By supporting women to rebuild their lives through access to training and employment, we can break the cycle of reoffending, reduce crime, and ensure that all woman have access to opportunities that our city offers.”

Molly, who was supported by Advance’s Diversion Service, said:

“I would say to those who have the power to fund this service, it’s so important for women to come here (Advance’s Women’s Centre) and taste what life is like as an empowered woman because you feel like you have a bit of control back.
“If I hadn’t engaged with the service, I really don’t know where I would be. It makes me feel proud when I see
myself now and think about what I was then; I feel very proud, I feel very grateful to Advance for helping me along with things and encouraging me to be myself.”

Women in the service receive support via Advance and its partners’ women’s centres in Camden, Islington, Lambeth and Southwark.


Media enquiries

For more information, please contact Leonie Loftus at Advance, at Leonie.l@advancecharity.org.uk or in office hours on 020 3953 3111 and out of office hours Niki Scordi on 07962 346546.

Notes to editors
  • Advance delivers the Diversion Service in partnership with Hibiscus Initiatives, PECAN and Women in Prison
  • (1) Ministry of Justice: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/offender-management-statistics-quarterly-january-to-march-2018
  • (2) Prison Reform Trust: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/why-are-more-women-are-being-returned-to-prison-than_uk_5a81bca5e4b033149e401d62
  • (3) HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (2020) Annual Report 2019-20, London: The Stationery Office
  • (4) Williams, K., Papadopoulou, V. & Booth, N. (2012) Prisoners’ childhood and family backgrounds, London: MoJ
  • (5) Ministry of Justice (2018) Female Offender Strategy, London: MoJ
  • Women make up 5% of the prison population.
    Of the women referred through to the Diversion service, 91% have engaged with the service, with only 9% being closed due to non-engagement or disengaging after their first appointment. Of the 131 women with conditional cautions that engaged, 97% have met the requirements of the caution.
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