Cornton Vale women reveal how Project 218 helps saves lives and stops them offending
Apr 19 2012 by Annie Brown
Cornton Vale sign
WHEN women leave Cornton Vale prison, many say their “habit is waiting at the gate”... but for a lucky few, Turning Point 218 is there instead.
This week the Commission on Women Offenders, chaired by former LordAdvocate Dame Elish Angiolini, made 37 recommendations which could see one of the biggest shake-ups of the justice system in a century.
As well as proposing that women’s prison Cornton Vale is razed to the ground, they also called for an expansion of diversion projects, such as Turning Point 218, across Scotland.
The report recommended that these are housed in new one-stop shop Community Justice Centres along with prosecutors, police, health workers and social workers.
The project supports women to tackle the addiction, the mental illness and the trauma of abuse, which for most is the pathway back to prison.
Turning Point 218 offer counselling, addiction work, residential accommodation, one-to-one mentoring and aftercare but, above all, they help society by stopping many women from reoffending.
Women who have used the services reduced their drug and alcohol use by 83 per cent, their health and wellbeing improved by two-thirds and they were more inclined to find stable housing and referrals to long-term support.
One in seven of the women who end up in Cornton Vale have a form of mental illness and for half, their addiction played a part in getting them jailed.
Mary Beglan, service manager of the project in Glasgow, said that tackling the root causes of offending and instilling self-responsibilty were key.
She said: “The important thing that the general public should know is that women here are held accountable for their behaviour.
“This isn’t a soft option where they come in and get beauty treatments and belly dancing.
“This is about making a better society. If we take a woman in here and we help to redirect their life in a positive way, that is potentially generations of people’s lives that we are affecting.
“They will be the carers of theirchildren, who will grow up with a better set of parents. How do you put that into monetary terms?”
An evaluation of the project found that for every £1 invested, the return to the public purse was £2.50.
That didn’t take into account the cost of children being taken in to care, the cost of the next generation becoming addicted and imprisoned.
Funded by the Scottish Government, 218 is a partnership between Turning Point Scotland and NHS Scotland.
There are 12 women in residence and 50 women in day services at any given time.
Among the women who participated in the programmes, reoffending dropped by a third and in crimes of dishonesty, fell by just over 40 per cent.
Mary said: “We have a very structured programme and there is a requirement that they get up and get ready for groups in the morning and then again in the afternoon.”
It is not the right place for the very violent or those who are severely mentally ill and need 24- hour supervision.
Women bailed there come on the understanding that they will stay there and if they leave they will be reported to the police but that’s a rarity.
Mary said: “Some will come kicking and screaming but by the end of three weeks, they are opting to stay and for most that is one of the only positive choices they have made in years.”
Through an intensive programme, the project addresses the underlying causes of offending behaviour and more than half will have been in Cornton Vale, some on several occasions.
The project recognised that the majority of women who will pass through prison have been victims of crimes such as domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Mary said: “All our women have been victims – victims of childhood sexual abuse, domestic abuse previous and current and some have had very difficult upbringings where school has failed them, their parents and the system have failed them.
“Many of the women have posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of abuse. But they are also women of great strength and character who have come through horrendous lives. A lot of the women have lost their children and a lot of the work we do is about coming to terms with that.
“Without the drugs and alcohol, they are left feeling very vulnerable and it takes a lot of courage to face that and take part in our programme.”
Women come to the project through a variety of routes but mainly through the criminal justice system.
They could go to 218 while they are on remand and sheriffs can then order them to stay there if sentenced.
Simple things such as teaching the women budgeting are essential.
If a woman is making £400 shoplifting or in prostitution and they quit, how do they cope on £65 a fortnight?
Mary said: “A lot of the women haven’t got the skills to budget and they haven’t learned them from their families.”
There are employability courses but Mary is cautious about what the women can expect.
She added: “To be frank, a lot of the women don’t have a job history and work isn’t necessarily something they can hope for. Some will be third-generation unemployed, so there are no great expectations.
“The reality is, even if we overcame those things, there are no jobs for people with a criminal record.
“The kind of jobs that women tend to go into are retail but if you have 30 charges of shoplifting, it is unlikely you will get a place and that’s what women will often be getting charged with.”
Group work is about addiction, offending, managing emotions and relapse prevention.
The project opens the women’seyes to being caught in a destructive cycle, that they offend simply to pay for drugs and are addicted to mask underlying pain.
But Mary said: “I think one of the mistakesyou can make when you are talking about women offenders, is to see them only as victims. Many are but they are also offenders and have to be held accountable for that.”