BARONESS Corston, a champion of radical change in the handling and rehabilitation of vulnerable female criminals, opened a new centre for women offenders in Swindon.
The ISIS Women’s Centre on Victoria Road was inaugurated by the life peer before probation workers and local dignitaries at a small ceremony on Friday.
The development is an expansion of a successful service established by ISIS, a partnership between Wiltshire Probation Trust and Gloucestershire-based charity The Nelson Trust, and which has already won national recognition.
Baroness Corston authored a report highlighting the plight of vulnerable women in the prison system in 2007 calling for immediate change to allow female offenders to turn their lives around and reduce their risk of re-offending.
The document inspired the opening of the first ISIS centre in Gloucester in 2010.
She said: “Looking at the profile at these women, they are poor, don’t have much of an education, they have an addiction and are often single parents.
“They feel alone and unliked, they have no self-worth and they often serve short sentences, sometimes in a remand prison for just 28 days.
“But in 28 days they can lose their children, their home and often don’t get them back.
“It’s no wonder that these women’s lives fall apart. There are so many benefits when you give them a safe place where they can talk about the things that have happened in their lives, which are dreadful, and be listened to, not talked at.”
Staff from both agencies will work side-by-side in Swindon to support women offenders across the county at the new hub.
Probation workers will provide supervision, manage risk and ensure that women are complying with their court orders.ISIS key workers will help them to address a range of issues including substance misuse, homelessness, domestic violence and mental health problems.
Liz Rijnenberg, chief executive officer of Wiltshire Probation Trust, spent the past year working to secure the funding and the partnership arrangements which brought the ISIS Service to Swindon.
“This will be a service for the whole of Wiltshire although it begins today in Swindon,” she said.
“ISIS is committed to opening up services in 2014 in major towns across the county as well as providing an outreach service to women in rural areas. The service will also reach in to HM Prison Eastwood Park to work with women who will be released back to Wiltshire, making sure they have support plans in place which start the moment they leave the prison gates.”
The women using the centre will also have regular contact with a key worker who will help them to overcome practical problems and access support services.