A safe, just and equal world for women

Community support for women in contact with the criminal justice system

July 28, 2021
This month a further 1500 women on probation in the East and South of England will now be offered support by Advance and partners in their own communities and local women’s centres.

Each year Advance reaches over 1000 women in London, offering holistic community support and activities in our women’s centres collaborating with London partners , since the launch of our Minerva service a decade ago. This month a further 1500 women on probation in the East and South of England will now be offered support in their own communities and local women’s centres. Advance is working in partnership with 12 local and national women’s service providers and statutory services in Kent, Hampshire, Thames Valley, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, reaching over 2700 women a year in total, including London.

Our Minerva Service is rooted in practice-based evidence and the lived experiences of women, reducing re-offending through specialist wraparound support that addresses the underlying causes including poverty, domestic abuse and mental ill health.

We know that prison does not work for most women: it destabilises their and their families’ lives by ripping them away from their children and out of their communities. The majority of women are given short-term sentences for minor offences, which evidence shows can increase the risk of reoffending. The recent Prison Reform Trust Briefing (July 2021) highlighted that:

  • 72% of women who entered prison in 2020 have committed a non-violent offence
  • 70% of prison sentences given to women were for less than 12 months.
  • almost half of recalls in 2020 are of women serving a sentence of less than 12 months
  • there were 12,000 self-harm incidents in the women’s estate in 2020, reaching record levels. ( 22% of all self-harm incidents in 2020, despite making up only 4% of the prison population)
  • The use of community sentences has dropped by two-thirds since 2010.

Advance’s approach breaks this cycle, enabling women to be supported in their own homes, keeping their jobs and staying with their families. Working together, Advance and its partners ensure women get the practical and emotional support they need, when they need it, in women-only spaces. As a result, women are safer and improve their confidence, self-esteem and life skills, empowering them to change their lives.


Niki Scordi, Chief Executive of Advance, said:

“From our work with thousands of women each year, we know that prison is not the right place for women who commit non-violent offences: for as little as failing to pay her TV license, a woman can lose her home, her job and her children. That is as cruel as it is unjust.

For decades, Advance has worked tirelessly to improve outcomes for women and their families who find themselves caught in the ‘revolving door’ of the criminal justice system, helping them to change their lives and break the cycle of offending.

In 2018, the Female Offender Strategy promised to invest in services to support women and this funding shows the Ministry of Justice’s commitment to improving the system for women, which, until now, has failed them.

Awarding funding to specialist women’s organisations like Advance to deliver holistic, gender-specific, trauma-informed services will be life-changing for so many women and their children across England and Wales.”

One Small Thing partnered with Advance in Hampshire to deliver specialist support to women in the criminal justice.


Esther Sample, Head of Policy, Research and Influencing, One Small Thing said:

“We are delighted to be partnering with Advance in Hampshire, combining our expertise on supporting women affected by trauma and the justice system.

The Complex Needs & Housing Community Keyworker will be part of the pioneering residential community we are developing in Southampton called Hope Street, as well as Advance’s wider work with women in the justice system or on probation across the county.

This partnership allows both of our organisations to support more women, more widely, ensuring all of their needs are addressed.”

Join our call to action

Advance joins women’s campaigners and organisations to call on the government to invest further in community-based services and support, instead of funding a further 500 prison places .

Advance’s campaign, Women Demand Better also calls for investment in better mental health support in the community for women; read our statement and call to action here

No-one should be left behind. Women demand better.




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