A unique partnership is supporting women at HMP Styal to make positive changes to their lives and improve their well-being.
The Cheshire & Greater Manchester Community Rehabilitation Company (CGM CRC) delivers services at prisons across the region it covers to help prepare prisoners for release. CGM CRC commissioned relationships charity Relate Cheshire & Merseyside to help women with a range of issues associated with having been victims of domestic violence or involved in sex work.
The project – Flourish – benefits from Relate’s extensive experience in supporting and developing healthy relationships through the provision of counselling and group programmes. It builds on evidence that indicates that strong relationships help to reduce reoffending and was developed with Emily Alison, a behavioural psychologist with a wealth of experience working in a custodial setting.
The organisation has been at HMP Styal for a year and has worked with more than a hundred women. Flourish’s key aim is to improve women’s mental well-being. An assessment using a recognised measure has shown that the programme brings about a marked improvement in women’s well being, taking the average score for those completing the programme to significantly above the national average for women in England.
Women are referred to the project by offender managers in the prison. The project works with women in small groups; one focuses on healthy relationships and changing negative behaviours, while another looks at supporting healthy parenting. A third intervention works on a one-to-one basis with women who are suffering from trauma.
The project builds on a strong body of evidence indicating strong relationships help to reduce reoffending. Jenny Archer-Power, CGM CRC community director, commissioned Flourish and has been impressed by the results..
She said: “It is notoriously difficult within the female prison estate because historically the women we work with do not self-refer to services. Sadly, this is often because domestic abuse is so engrained within their experience that they don’t recognise they are victims.
“Previously many services looked on the individual as an ‘offender’ but didn’t consider that the individual could themselves have been a victim. Services therefore overlooked the complications this creates.
“We decided to provide a special service aimed at engaging women about these issues. Relate has proven extremely adept at delivering the service and the feedback from participants has been fantastic.”
Susie Woods, a Relate supervisor, is clinical lead for Flourish. The team includes four facilitators who are experienced relationship counsellors with Relate.
She said: “The vast majority of the people Relate traditionally has worked with have been brought up in families that cared and nurtured them, but this isn’t always the case with the women we are working with at HMP Styal.
“The project recognises the varied and complex needs of women in custody. It aims to offer a holistic response addressing relationships, mental health and well-being, parenting and trauma recovery.
“We support women to develop effective coping and relationships skills because this is more likely to lead to positive outcomes for them both while they are in custody and during resettlement on release.”
Anastacia Selby, Head of Reducing Reoffending at HMP Styal, praised the work undertaken by Flourish and said their interventions now had waiting lists.
She added: “Flourish deals with relationship and communication issues that underlay much of the women’s offending. Many of the women have had adverse childhood experiences and been involved in abusive relationships which have led to drug and alcohol misuse and criminal activity.
“I’ve heard from women who tell me how much the course has helped them recognise the destructive relationships they were involved in and the impact this has had on themselves and their family members.
“I’ve also seen that women who have undertaken the course seem much calmer and take responsibility for their relationships with others – both in custody and the community.”
Flourish helps women prepare for release via CGM CRC’s Integrated Through the Gate programme and liaises with probation case managers based in the community who supervise offenders post-release.
Susie added: “It is enormously rewarding to offer this service at Styal and to witness the difference this is making to women’s lives and well-being.”
Picture caption: From left to right, Allyson Dalton, Flourish Facilitator, Sarah Hall, Relate Cheshire & Merseyside Chief Executive, Pauline Robinson, Flourish Facilitator, Viv Charles, Flourish Facilitator, Susie Woods, Flourish Clinical Lead.