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My life spiralled out of control after they took my son away from me
Sarah’s life spiralled out of control after she lost custody of her son.
She starting drinking heavily, lost her home and later tried to commit suicide.
Then, during a drunken row, she lashed out and physically attacked someone.
She was charged with assault earlier this year and given a community sentence through the Essex Probation Service.
She says it was only when the probation service stepped in she was able to rebuild her life.
She says: “My son is the most important thing in my life and when he was taken away and put into care, I didn’t want to carry on. I turned to drink and became very dependent on it. One evening I got into a row with a friend and it turned into a physical fight. I scratched the person on their face and I was charged with assault.”
Sarah felt her life was in chaos and did not know what to do.
She says: “I was so devastated that I had got so low and I felt out of control. I took an overdose to try to kill myself.
“I honestly believe if I had not gone through the probation service programme I would not be here today.”
Essex Probation is responsible for overseeing offenders released from prison on licence and those on community sentences made by judges and magistrates in the courts.
“Simon, my offender manager, has helped me through the hardest times in my life and has got me to focus on the future,” Sarah says.
Sarah followed the probation service programme and took every opportunity that was open to her. She gave up alcohol and has been sober for ten months, completed plumbing qualifications from college, volunteered and took part in a mentoring programme. She has just secured a full-time job in a supermarket.
She says: “I have no friends or family and I didn’t have my son with me any more, so I felt like I could have just kept sinking lower.
“Working with Simon gave me something to focus on and I could start doing positive things to get my life on track.”
This summer the Women’s Project was launched to address the individual needs of women offenders in a bid to help them lead a crime-free life.
The Essex Probation service was the first to initiate the project and it is set to roll out across the rest of the UK.
The Women’s Project helps women across Essex boost their confidence and self-esteem, as well as helping them build and maintain healthy relationships, supporting their emotional and physical wellbeing, and giving them access to volunteering opportunities, as well as life-skills and debt management information.
It takes into consideration that women may have family and child care issues, may be substance abusers, and whether they have experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse.
Susan Kelly, manager of offender’s management, says: “If you treat male and female offenders the same, there will always be inequalities in their development and rehabilitation because they have different needs.
“It can lead to more cases of self-harm. It can affect their integration in the community, as well as increase suicide rates.”
So what does the new programme focus on?
Susan says: “It focuses on things such as issues of leaving children behind, social services, whether they have addictions and a history of abuse.
“Now women are getting the attention they deserve and we can target issues and are able to give them support so they can look to the future.”
Susan says it is vital to focus on the root causes as to why women commit crimes.
She says: “In many of the cases the women abuse drugs and alcohol and we have seen that it is not always the answer to put these women in prison.
“It is more effective for them and the community to go through the programme. It is useless unless you tackle root issues.”
Prior to the new programme, if an individual needed further support they would receive this on an individual one-to-one basis. However, Susan says group sessions have proven valuable to female offenders. She says: “They get a lot from working together as a group. It means they can speak with women who have been through similar situations and find out how they have rebuilt their lives.”
The change in the way female offenders are dealt with was instigated by the publication of the Corston report in 2007.
The government set out objectives to reduce the number of women coming through the criminal justice system, to ensure the needs of women who are sentenced are met in the community wherever possible, and to ensure facilities are appropriate to those women who are sentenced to custody.
This work has culminated in the Women’s Project in Chelmsford, which is being paid for by Open Road, a registered charity that support individuals affected by drugs and alcohol.
Staff have started to identify a pool of female offenders to participate in the new project and they have so far had one woman who has completed the programme.
Participation is entirely voluntary and for those who are unwilling or unable to take part in the group work element, they will be able to provide one-to-one provision. Susan says: “It is too early to be able to gauge how effective the new programme is, but all of the reactions so far have been positive.”
In Sarah’s case, her future is looking brighter as a result of the probation service programme.
“I have been sober for 10 months now. I have to be honest, sometimes I do feel I would like to drink, but I think of the future and I decide that I will not. A lot of addicts struggle but it is about taking each day at a time.
“I am applying for jobs now, volunteering and I am hoping to mentor soon. I also tend to an allotment every day which keeps me occupied. I am rebuilding me life for the day my son comes back home.”
Names have been changed to protect identities.
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