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8 March 2024
Adult court matters

Edwina Grosvenor, Founder of One Small Thing, discusses Hope Street in Hampshire, a community alternative to prison for women and their children.

The text reads: guest blog, Edwina Grosvenor

Community justice is something we need to come back to. Since 70 per cent of the probation service was privatised in 2014, we have seen a steady decline in the use of community sentences across the country. The handing out of these sentences has reduced by 50 per cent in less than a decade.

Our prisons are full. The answer to the overcrowding crisis lies, in part, in community justice. In order for magistrates to be able to discharge their duties robustly and efficiently, which is of course what the tax-paying public expects, there needs to be a functioning, well-resourced, well-staffed probation system. Herein lies the problem for magistrates today.

Gender must be taken into account when looking at the options. The community represents a dangerous place for most justice-involved women with many of them suffering violence at the hands of a man, be that their intimate partner, a pimp, or a gang member. We know that women are more likely to be abused throughout their lives by the person they love (Dr Covington 2021). This is different from their male counterparts. Men, of course, can also be at risk in the community but in very different ways. It is not as usual that a man would have a female pimp, a female gang member or a female abusive partner sitting behind the crimes committed. Men are also not usually abused by the person they love; they are in fact more likely to come to harm from peers or strangers. It is therefore crucial that we reflect those differences in our solutions and how we understand why women may breach their licences when asked to show up to groups that are mixed gender or when women’s housing arrangements don’t work if men live there too.

Magistrates in some counties will often have no option at all when it comes to sentencing women. If the woman is homeless, then she can’t get a community sentence due to not having an address and if her abuser is in her home, then sentencing them to a home detention curfew might be as serious as condemning her to her death. Prison therefore remains the only and perhaps safest option.

Because of this dysfunction in the system, I developed Hope Street Hampshire, a residential community alternative to prison for women and their children . Hope Street is a place where women can be sent from prison, probation or from the magistrates’ court, either on remand or on a community sentence with their children, to prevent them from having to go to prison simply because there aren’t any other options. It has been designed to be replicable and scalable so that the model could go into any other part of the country.

The great British justice system needs serious help and those in government need to act with more seriousness than they have ever done before.

There needs to be a plan for our community, a plan for a community justice system that takes into consideration the different approaches that men and women need to be safe. It is only when people feel safe, that they too will act in safe ways.

This, of course, is in all our interests.

Hope Street is the only model of its type in the country but it is built upon the premise of the women’s centres which are dotted around the UK, most of which are not residential.

One Small Thing:

 Case study:

“I am 19 years old and have lived under the care of children’s services since the age of 14. I live with neurodiverse challenges and at times struggle to regulate my emotions. This has led to me losing my temper and lashing out when I feel afraid or overwhelmed. This is when the criminal offences have happened.

“I have a criminal record. I don’t want to go to prison and want to have a better, normal life. I want to continue studying at college. I couldn’t continue my studies before, because I didn’t have any help and found it hard to get to college and focus on my studies at that time.

“I really enjoy visiting my grandparents regularly who live locally.

“I became aware of Hope Street when my probation officer suggested that this could be an alternative to prison for the crimes mentioned above. I could have gone to prison. I agreed and was able to stay in one of the houses to serve remand until the court case.

“On the day of my court case, my senior community partner came with me. She was calm and supportive and held my hand to help me feel safe and calm during the sentencing. If she wasn’t there, I think I would have broken down in court. I’m glad I didn’t. She stayed and walked back with me, and helped me to calm down when I found it hard to understand the language used in court, did become upset and found it overwhelming to regulate emotionally after the pretty intimidating court process.

“I was sentenced to Hope Street with a tag to make sure I stuck to the 9pm curfew conditions. I am the first woman to have been referred by the court to Hope Street. At first, I found it hard to leave my temporary flat, but when I saw my lovely little room, I was happy and made friends with other women who helped me.

“Since being a part of Hope Street, I have joined music groups and have loved playing the ukulele! With the support of my senior community partner, I attended the freedom group too and I’m going to go each week. I was afraid at first, but I can see that this could help me to have good relationships and build my self-confidence and esteem.

“I am starting to see that I can change my life and feel that the other women and the team at Hope Street care about me. I want to have a better life.”