Lack of funds harming female offender rehabilitation efforts - report
A shortage of accommodation and lack of funding are hampering efforts to help female offenders turn away from crime, a watchdog has warned.
Dedicated funding for women was said to have "virtually disappeared" since an overhaul of probation services was launched in 2014.
Inspectors found a reduction in the availability of accommodation and "considerable uncertainty and anxiety" about current and future funding of women's services.
Funding was a "major concern" for women's centres which provide a range of services including counselling, help with housing and employment.
One in ten offenders being supervised by probation services in England and Wales are women.
HM Inspectorate of Probation explored the quality and effectiveness of services for women after the implementation of the government's Transforming Rehabilitation programme two years ago.
The shake-up saw the creation of the National Probation Service (NPS) to deal with high-risk offenders while remaining work was assigned to 21 new community rehabilitation companies (CRCs).
Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey said the availability and range of provision in the community for women who offend is " still inconsistent".
She said this is "hardly surprising given the paucity of dedicated funding, and as the demands of implementing the Transforming Rehabilitation programme have diverted attention away from the development of services for women who offend".
The inspection found a "lack of strategic focus" on women and there is no "clear statement" of the government's policy aims for women who offend or are likely to reoffend, Dame Glenys said.
Inspectors previously looked at services for women in 2011.
Dame Glenys said: "After the improvements we saw when we last inspected, in 2011, it is disappointing to see that progress has stalled.
"Women differ from men - they offend for different reasons and they often need different sorts of support to turn away from crime.
"Women's centres were doing some excellent work to help women do that and to rebuild their lives.
"These centres need recognition, support and funding so that they can continue to help these women and make communities safer."
In 2013/2014 the National Offender Management Service provided £3.78 million in funding designated for community services for women, according to the report.
It added that funding is no longer ring-fenced and there is no published data of the total amount available across England and Wales.
Inspectors found some excellent individual examples of work being carried out by officers with women and some very good "partnership working", the watchdog's report said.
Justice minister Dr Phillip Lee said: "We are grateful to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation for this report but note these findings are based on a very limited sample, representing less than one per cent of the female offenders we support and monitor in the community.
"This Government will build a Britain that works for everyone, including the most vulnerable, and we are committed to helping female offenders reform and live law-abiding lives.
"We will use this report to inform our female offender strategy, but are pleased that in 86% of cases probation staff helped women to reduce their reoffending, manage their risk of harm, and abide by their sentences.
"This will mean less crime and safer communities."
The inspection sample consisted of 72 cases of women who had been sentenced to a community order, suspended sentence order or released on licence.