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A woman who says she would have ended up dead or in prison has praised a West Midlands scheme, funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner, for saving her life.
Jacqui (not her real name) from Birmingham was, for years, the victim of violent and controlling behaviour at the hands of her partner. Things escalated to the point that he controlled her mentally, financially, socially and even sexually.
But it was after he stopped giving her enough money to feed her children that she began shoplifting.
Until one day she was caught.
However, ironically, she says it was getting caught that saved her life. Police offered her a route to safety by referring her to a scheme funded by the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner called New Chance.
The PCC has now announced that the scheme will be funded until at least April 2021.
The initiative offers hundreds of female offenders in the region the help they need to rebuild their lives and step away from criminality. It recognises that offending often stems from trauma, such as domestic violence, poverty, mental health or addiction.
So far 700 women in our area have been helped by the programme. Jacqui is now in a much better place and is hoping to return to work.
The PCC set up the £270,000 a year New Chance initiative in order to break the cycle of offending amongst women. The aim is to take women away from the Criminal Justice System who have been identified by the police as someone who might benefit from extra support. This help includes practical and emotional help based on a woman’s individual needs. It’s estimated the investment in the New Chance programme has saved several million pounds in costs associated with offending.
The project launched in 2016 to operate across Birmingham and the Black Country. Based on the success of the programme, New Chance has now been rolled out right across the West Midlands area. It is run by a number of organisations including Anawim, Black Country Women’s Aid, Fry Accord Housing and Changing Lives.
A recent evaluation by the University of Birmingham shows that women with mental health issues, enrolled on the New Chance scheme, were up to 37% less likely to reoffend. Whilst reoffending rates amongst women with substance misuse issues dropped by more than half.
The initiative has been so successful that it’s been shortlisted for an award by the Howard League for Penal Reform.
“It is so pleasing to hear a success story like Jacqui’s”, said Police and Crime Commissioner, David Jamieson.  
“I’ve been funding the New Chance scheme for four years because we know it’s making a difference to the lives of hundreds of women, breaks the cycle of crime and saves the taxpayer money.
“Many female offenders are actually victims themselves and have been subject to untold abuse. New Chance works because it tackles those underlying problems.  
“This initiative is helping to reduce crime, our prisons are less full, hundreds of women’s lives have been saved and fewer victims have been created.
“I am delighted the New Chance programme has been nominated for a Howard League Penal Reform award.”
Meanwhile Jacqui, said: “In early adulthood I was a successful, confident young woman with everything to live for.
“I then started a relationship with a man who became very controlling and violent – mentally, physically, sexually and financially.
“With no money and no way of feeding my children, I regret to say I took to stealing food from shops.
“Before long I got caught. But that was the best thing that ever happened to me. I explained to the shop manager and the police officers what was happening at home and before long I was receiving the right kind of help from police and the New Chance programme.
“Without the help of the New Chance programme I would have either ended up in prison or dead.”
Sarah Gallagher is the Service Manager at Anawim, one of the organisations that runs New Chance,  she said: “New Chance has enabled us to work with West Midlands Police to provide early intervention for women who have received a conditional caution.
“It is important to provide the support at the right time before they become entrenched within the criminal justice system.
“The outcomes have been fantastic, from supporting women financially, dealing with childhood trauma, domestic violence and sexual violence to supporting women into employment.”

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