On this year’s International Women’ Day, charity St Giles is highlighting the barriers facing women who have been in the criminal justice system.
It is also celebrating these same women who have turned their disadvantage into a positive asset to inspire and empower others.
Women with experience of the criminal justice system face added disadvantages and barriers. The prison system – largely designed for men – does not consider their gender specific needs and roles as mothers and caregivers. Most women serve short sentences which means they can experience difficulties in accessing support to help them adjust to life in the community upon leaving prison. Many face barriers when they seek employment*.
St Giles provides services for women who are experiencing these issues to help them gain skills and confidence and overcome barriers to positively progress their lives. Last year, we helped 742 women to overcome issues arising from the barriers of having a criminal record, experience of homelessness, domestic abuse and physical and mental health factors.
Some of the women we supported have gone on to become inspiring, empowering role models for others going through the situations they once faced. They are living proof that – given the right support – women can overcome adversity and positively progress.
Tracey Stevenson is one of them. She believed she would never gain a job again after a spell in prison for fraud she committed to fund a gambling addiction. Tracey fell into depression after being released from prison. However, she met St Giles and trained as a Peer Advisor. She now works as a Link Worker, supporting and empowering other women facing similar experiences to hers to stablise their lives and make positive progress.
“St Giles saw my passion for helping others. I would like to say to anybody facing any adversities that life does not end. It changes, please make the most of what services are offered, they are offered for a reason. To help you change for the better. My life is better than before I was sentenced. Whoever would have thought that?”
However, there are many women across the UK who do not get this support and are trapped in a cycle of disadvantage, poverty and re-offending.
Through its services St Giles gives women the opportunity to put their pasts behind them and create positive futures for themselves and their families.
Nicky Park, Director of Prisons and Women’s Services at St Giles, says:
“At St Giles, we are empowering women and girls to make healthy choices and build a better future through achieving independence and a positive lifestyle.”
* Just 4% of women were in paid employment six weeks after release from custody—compared to 11% of men (source: Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile)
As of 3 March 2023 there were 3,313 women in the UK prison system (source https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/prison-population-figures-2023).
72% of women in prison have committed a non-violent offence and 58% serve sentences of less than six months (source: Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile)