Trevi offers an alternative to prison for pregnant women

Trevi, the women’s charity which runs the only UK residential rehabilitation centre exclusively for mothers and their children, has announced that it offers a better alternative to prison for female offenders who are pregnant.

Six hundred pregnant women enter a prison every year in the UK and about a hundred babies are born inside despite the fact that the prison environment may pose particular risks for pregnant women and unborn children.

In September 2019, a newborn baby died in HMP Bronzefield; another baby was stillborn in HMP Styal in June 2020. The Ministry of Justice does not routinely collect or publish data on miscarriages, stillbirths and neo-natal deaths so the number of deaths of babies born to imprisoned mothers may be higher.

It is well established that women rarely commit violent crimes or pose any danger to society. However despite this, the women’s prison population in England and Wales more than doubled between 1995 and 2010 – from under 2,000 women to over 4,000. The number has since declined but the UK is characterised as having one of the highest rates of imprisonment for women in Western Europe.

Locally, 106 immediate prison sentences were given to women in Devon and Cornwall in 2019, a decrease from 120 in 2018 and a 7% decrease since 2009. These were mostly for non-violent offences and 66% were for less than six months. 31% of the prison sentences were for theft offences.

In 2018, the Government published its Female Offender Strategy which sets out the Government’s commitment to a new programme of work for female offenders, driven by three priorities:
1. Earlier intervention,
2. An emphasis on community-based solutions, and
3. An aim to make custody as effective and decent as possible for those women who do have to be there.

70.7% of adult women and 62.9% of adult men released from custody between April to June 2016 following a short custodial sentence of less than 12 months reoffended within a year. When comparing the reoffending rate for women on a community order to women released from prison, the reoffending rate within 12 months is more than halved.

There is persuasive evidence that short custodial sentences are less effective in reducing reoffending than community orders. Short sentences generate churn which is a major driver of instability in UK prisons, and they do not provide sufficient time for rehabilitative activity. The impact on women, many of whom are sentenced for non-violent, low level but persistent offences, often for short periods of time, is extremely significant.

The prevalence of anxiety and self-harm incidents is far greater for female prisoners than for male. As more female offenders are primary carers than their male counterparts, these sentences lead to a disproportionate impact on children and families and a failure to halt the intergenerational cycle of offending. For instance, a landmark study found that 63% of prisoners’ sons went on to offend themselves.

In addition, prison can be a place where there is exposure to more hardened and accomplished criminals, and therefore it can become a place for criminal education, serious and organised crime, and radicalisation rather than rehabilitation.

Trevi, a leading southwest women’s charity, runs a CQC registered residential rehabilitation service known as Jasmine Mother’s Recovery (formerly known as Trevi House). The centre opened in 1993 in Plymouth, Devon, as a drug and alcohol residential rehabilitation centre working exclusively with mothers and their children. Jasmine takes referrals from across the UK and can accommodate up to 12 women and their children at any time. Each mother follows a trauma informed therapeutic rehabilitation plan over an average 24 week stay. Facilities include residential rooms, family apartments, a therapy lodge and an Ofsted registered nursery for children to be looked after during therapy times.

At Jasmine Mother’s Recovery, the dedicated and expert team works with each mother to help her break her addiction for good and to be the best mother she can be. And the results speak for themselves: 98% of women who go to Jasmine successfully detox and almost 8 out of 10 children get to stay with their mother.

Early Intervention
Jasmine Mother’s Recovery works hard to achieve intervention as early as possible, with more mothers being admitted during pregnancy, having a positive impact on outcomes.

It is recognised that a significant proportion of women who come into contact with the criminal justice system (CJS) commit offences that are low-level. In some cases, their offending could have been prevented by addressing their vulnerabilities at an earlier stage. Many women offenders experience chaotic lifestyles involving substance abuse, mental health problems, homelessness, and offending behaviour – these are often a product of life of abuse and trauma. Often these offenders will have repeated demands on services and go on to reoffend. Criminalising vulnerable women can make it harder for them to access routes out of the issues driving their offending, creating barriers to them finding or maintaining employment and accommodation.

65% of the women who attend Jasmine Mother’s Recovery have been involved with the criminal justice system at some point in their lives. A study carried out by the University of Nottingham which looked at residents who had attended Jasmine over a ten-year period, found that their previous life experiences were extremely challenging. Such challenges included domestic abuse, childhood abuse, criminal justice system involvement, mental health service involvement, parental substance misuse, care experience (in childhood), sexual exploitation, self-harm, and suicide attempts. Almost 95% of the women had experienced at least 3 or more of these traumatic experiences.

It is for this reason that Jasmine Mother’s Recovery operates as a trauma informed service; as well as working with the presenting issues of substance misuse and parenting concerns, the service aims to address the underlying trauma that many women have experienced. The Treatment Programme at Jasmine Mother’s Recovery has been designed to provide a wide variety of interventions, which focus on three main areas of need: parenting, addiction and healthy relationships.

Work on healthy relationships is a golden thread throughout Jasmine’s treatment programme. The centre recognises that many residents have been in previously unhealthy relationships, which may have been abusive and controlling and that women may have challenging relationships with family members or partners. Through groups and personal work, Jasmine helps to increase residents’ awareness of their personal interactions with others, empowering them to begin to build positive relationships with those around. The centre also seeks to improve the relationship that each woman has with herself – building self-esteem and confidence can be key to maintaining recovery.

Mel, a Trevi beneficiary states: ‘I went to prison for 16 weeks and I was pregnant then. I used to go shop lifting to get the money to buy drugs. It was the easiest way to get the money at the time. It was not a nice experience – it’s scary going to prison but I would rather have gone to prison than to have been out there with my addiction. When I came out, I relapsed straight away. I knew I wanted to stop but I just couldn’t. As soon as I was out it was just constantly on my mind.

‘There was no support put in place for me when I left prison. I stopped offending for a while but then my ex got out of prison, and I got done for shop lifting again.

‘If I didn’t have nappies, then I would shop lift nappies. As women, we have more of a role to play in the kids’ lives.

‘I have experienced domestic violence, addiction and trauma. Sometimes you just think it’s part of the addiction to have that stuff but it’s not and that’s what you learn when you come to Trevi. You learn at Trevi that it’s not right. Just because addicts have had a bad life, it doesn’t define you. You have the courage to change if you want to.

‘Trevi has been completely different to prison. Here, I have got my son with me. I’ve got a life. I’ve got life to look forward to. Whereas in prison, it’s one day after another, just waiting to get out to go and use. In prison there’s no help.

‘In Trevi there’s support, there’s staff and people that actually care about you and want you to do well. People need that opportunity; if they don’t, then they just feel like they are in a dump and they can’t get out. If you are given an opportunity, you can start seeing the light, seeing that you can change and make a difference. And that you can be a mum.

‘Just because you’re an addict, doesn’t make you a bad mum. I want to wake up to my son whether he’s crying, weeing, pooing, shouting at me – I want to wake up to that because I love being a mum.’

Community based solutions
In 2016, Trevi opened its community based Sunflower Women’s Centre as it recognised a third of the women exiting its residential rehab were starting to relocate and remain in Plymouth as they felt safe.

The Sunflower Women’s Centre offers wrap-around therapeutic support for any woman with recovery needs. Women undergoing the intensive therapeutic programme at Jasmine who decide to relocate to the city of Plymouth are encouraged to engage with Sunflower towards the end of their treatment so that they can access the aftercare available.

Over the past year during the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 455 women have registered with the Sunflower Women’s Centre.

At Sunflower the dedicated and trauma informed all female team of support workers, therapists, teachers, and specialist practitioners work with every woman to address the trauma in her life, help her understand how it manifests so that she can begin to heal and move forward. Because of this, 95% of women describe the service as life-changing, with 75% being able to move forward in life.

Up until the pandemic hit, Probation Services were collocated at the Sunflower Women’s Centre every week. Having Probation on site was extremely successful as more women on community order began to access Sunflower’s therapeutic offer, this helped them address the trauma in their life and move forward positively, further reducing reoffending.

Pre-covid, the female Probation Officer’s (PO) case load was up to 60 – 20% being female all of whom she would meet at Sunflower. By having women meet their PO in a women’s only environment, not only led to them opening up more, but this also led to elements of system change. For example, Pre-Sentence Reports (PSRs) were starting to be completed at the centre. This has many benefits: being interviewed at the Sunflower Women’s Centre is less intimidating for the women and they can bring their children on site to the Sunflower Seeds creche. Also, PO’s are able to get to know each woman more as a person within the Sunflower environment enabling them to give a clearer, more holistic picture of each woman in court. Probation clients are able to access all that Sunflower has to offer, strengthening their sense of occupation, social capital and wellbeing.

Trevi has won awards for its work with women to desist from crime – this includes the Howard League Penal Reform Awards in 2020 under the women’s category.

The golden thread of the importance of relationships also runs through Trevi’s Sunflower Women’s Centre: practitioners help to put a focus on relationships – traditional and non-traditional familial – essential for a woman if she is to change. Building connections and growing a woman’s social capital is at the heart of all recovery.

Through Trevi’s therapeutic and practical programmes, the charity helps women forge a new identity giving them a second chance at leading a good life. Simply put, for many women: Trevi is where life begins.

Trevi makes financial sense too: For every woman who is diverted away from the Criminal Justice System, £60k is saved in the first year (includes arrest and female prison bed). This represents a ROI of 99:1 (excluding childcare). For every child that remains in their mother’s care because she has been diverted away from the prison, £250k is saved in the first 5 years.

Earlier this year the Government announced that it plans to invest in 500 more women’s prison places, completely contradicting their own Female Offender Strategy. In response, 70 charities including Trevi, came together to say no to the women’s 500 extra prison places; together they plead that community solutions are considered instead.

Hannah Shead, CEO of Trevi states: ‘Putting in place the right support during pregnancy has potential to improve the outcomes for both the woman and her unborn baby. At Trevi we have developed an approach that provides a viable alternative to imprisoning vulnerable pregnant women. It is my hope that one day this country will have a justice system able to respond with compassion to both mother and child’.

Trevi recently welcomed Rona Epstein, Honorary Research Fellow at Law School Coventry University and author of research paper, ‘Why are pregnant women in prison?’ to spend time in its centres.

Rona Epstein, Honorary Research Fellow at Law School Coventry University, states: ‘We at Coventry University and City University, London have done research on pregnant women in UK prisons. Our research will be published on 18 October. From our results we argue that no pregnant women should be in prison. We need a reform of remand and bail, and a total rethink of sentencing policy to ensure that pregnant women are not incarcerated in our prisons. Prison is no place for a vulnerable pregnant woman, and is dangerous for the unborn child who is innocent of all crime. There are alternative provisions which offer care and support to women who have been in conflict with the law, and who are themselves so often victims of domestic violence, abuse and coercion. Using community non-punitive provisions would protect and respect the unborn child, rather than endangering the child: this is what a civilised society demands.’

For more information about Trevi or its Jasmine Mother’s Recovery rehab centre, please contact or call 01752 255758.

t: 01752 255 758

t: 01752 255 758