A senior politician dealing with crime and justice in St Helens has welcomed the introduction of a regional women-only review court.
Deputy Police Commissioner for Merseyside Coun Emily Spurrell said the move to keep women out of prison by preventing criminal behaviour escalating was a good idea.
The courts will be held monthly from March and will examine the cases of women sentenced to community orders or suspended sentences with requirements.
The hearings will provide an all-female environment where cases can be evaluated and where issues can be identified and addressed with the aim of preventing problems getting to the point where orders could be breached, potentially putting women behind bars.
Attendees will be encouraged to engage with the order and be open about issues affecting them so they can be resolved.
The review hearings will be available to female offenders sentenced St Helens and Knowsley magistrates' courts.
Until now, the Complex Case Court has provided a system for reviews where both men's and women’s orders were considered, but it is hoped he new courts will encourages better communication and understanding of issues facing female offenders.
The introduction of the specialist courts follows a visit by the Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy and her deputy to similar courts operating in Manchester.
Coun Spurrell said: “For more than 40 years it has been widely agreed – by academics, legislators, reform organisations, charities and political parties – that it is not appropriate that women offenders are dealt with in the same way as their male counterparts; that there needs to be a ‘distinct’ approach to women in the criminal justice system.
“We know that the vast majority of women who come into contact with the criminal justice system have experienced significant adversities before they do so – whether that may be due to exploitation as a child or as an adult, because of domestic abuse or sexual violence, alcohol or substance misuse.
“We also know that they may face additional complexities in adhering to orders, due to issues including child care, mental health and appropriate housing. As a result, the road into – and out of – offending behaviour can be very different for women compared to men.
“That means our approach to how we treat women in the criminal justice system should be appropriately tailored. I enthusiastically welcome the introduction of these women-only review courts as a way of improving how the cases of female offenders are handled, with the over-arching aim of reducing the number who end up behind bars.
"They are a step in the right direction and, I hope, will form part of a series of reforms aimed at finding effective remedies to the struggles, needs and vulnerabilities of female offenders.”