In Greater Manchester the number of women arrested has fallen by 24% thanks to the way it works with women offenders of less serious and non-violent crimes.
In other areas of the country, however, arrests of women have nearly doubled because the police are under pressure from the government to use less cautions.
Greater Manchester Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd said: “I would urge policy makers to look more closely at the good work being done around women offending in Greater Manchester. Providing an alternative to arrest is not a “soft option”, it’s a solution.
“Our experience has shown that women who commit crimes such as shoplifting have complex lives, with many struggling to manage debt and housing issues, drug addiction, and mental ill health. Many are also victims of serious crimes themselves, such as domestic violence and sexual abuse.
“Arresting these women simply does more harm than good. It’s costly to the public purse, has a serious impact on these women’s children, and – significantly – does nothing to address their circumstances or prevent reoffending.”
In Greater Manchester, the focus is very much on intervention and crime prevention. Women are assessed at various points throughout the criminal justice system: arrest, sentencing and on release from prison. Those eligible are then supported as needed by Greater Manchester Women’s Support Alliance – a network of women’s centres that works with women at risk from offending or reoffending.
Between January 15 and March 2016, more than 1,900 women were referred to one of Greater Manchester’s ten women’s centres, with 88% of those making positive progress in their lives and only 4% re-offending. Women get help with practical issues such as accommodation and debt problems, training and employment, along with support to improve their mental health, wellbeing and confidence.
Arrests of women in Lancashire, Dorset and Hertfordshire rose 46%, 45% and 40% respectively between 2014/15 and 2015/16.
The ‘Fair Cop?’ report produced by the Prison Reform Trust revealed that 57% of women in prison are victims of domestic abuse, and 53% experienced abuse as a child.
The report found that improving outcomes for women at the point of arrest provides solutions and examples of positive work being delivered by police to tackle low level, non-violent crime committed by women. However, the report also found that opportunities are being missed to intervene early, reduce women’s offending and protect the public.