This chapter explores issues relating to rehabilitation and desistance with regard to women offenders, drawing on empirical data from a two-year research project that investigated the operation of different elements of a Community Justice Court in a city in the south-west of England. In particular, analysis is applied here in respect of the interactions with, and the situations of, some of the women offenders who appeared in the court during the period of the study (2012–24). This Community Justice Court, sitting once a week within a local Magistrates’ Court complex, was created in 2007 to deal with low-level offences and included the option of pre-sentence referrals to problem-solving meetings (see MoJ, 2014a). Within these sessions, defendants could be further assessed and could discuss their personal problems, so they could be offered support and signposted to relevant agencies and services in the community; this contact was intended especially for those defendants who did not reach the threshold of intervention from statutory agencies (see Auburn et al, 2016).
This review focuses specifically on the application of therapeutic jurisprudence within the community court proceedings in relation to women offenders. This approach could be seen to align with the view espoused by Birgden (2004, p 285) that this ‘is a legal theory that can usefully address the responsivity principle in offender rehabilitation’, seeing ‘the law itself – legal rules, procedures, and the roles of legal actors – as potential therapeutic agents’. Such a focus on responsivity emphasises the importance of ensuring that interventions are tailored to the specific circumstances of each individual, endeavouring to be more effective than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. In terms of criminal justice policy and practice in England and Wales, this innovative development thus appeared to fit well with the entreaty from the renowned Corston Report (Corsten, 2007, p 79) for a ‘distinct, radically different, visiblyled, strategic, proportionate, holistic, women-centred, integrated approach’ for women offenders.
The model applied in this setting envisioned that the offences that came before the court would be situated within the context of local social problems. In addition to the problem-solving meetings (Wolf, 2007), it was planned that the court would adopt a community justice approach, a term that ‘denotes a vision of justice practices with particular concern for the way crime and justice affect community life’ (Karp and Clear, 2000, p 324).