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Impact Study 1 - The SWIP Project

Sex Workers in Prison - SWIP

In 2007, the (then) Prison Service Women and Young People's Group entered into a partnership with Griffins to pilot a project to reflect the recommendations from a Griffin's paper on 'Provision of Support for imprisoned Adult Female Street-based Sex Workers' (Louise Clark, 2006).

Lou Clark’s paper made a number of recommendations, following findings that included:

"That all prisons, projects and sex workers agreed sex workers would benefit from prison staff having more awareness [of support needs relating to sex work]" (Clark 2006:17)

and

"Importantly, all the sex workers said they would be encouraged to ask for support if they were made more aware of what was available whilst in prison". (Clark, 2006:16).

In addition, the prison service's Reducing Reoffending Strategy for Women had a new pathway: Support for Prisoners Who Have Been Involved in Prostitution, which stated that 'Local prisons in particular should develop links with local organisations or networks that can help.' HMPS W&YPG Strategy and Resource Guide for the Resettlement of Women Prisoners (Spring 2006).

The joint project: Sex Workers in Prison (SWIP), was initially a 12 month pilot in 5 women's prisons (including HMP Holloway, Eastwood Park and Styal Prison).  It is a package of training and information development to enable prisons to meet the resettlement needs of imprisoned women offenders engaged in street-based sex work and also to help facilitate better links between the criminal justice system and sex work projects.

Aim:  The aim of the SWIP project was to assist women in reducing their reoffending, by ensuring any specific support needs related to their engagement in sex work are addressed, by breaking down the barriers that may prevent the women accessing support. This may be lack of knowledge of support services that are available, lack of staff awareness of support needs and attitudinal responses to disclosure.

Whilst some women may not wish to disclose, it is necessary to ensure that if they do, appropriate responses and advice are available to them. As any disclosure may be to a variety of professionals in the prison, e.g. drug agency staff, health staff, prison officers, etc. it is important that there is generic awareness of those support needs and also a good knowledge of available specialist support services, across the establishment.

The SWIP project encompassed three main strands:

  • Prison Staff Awareness Training on issues relating to sex work
  • Development of partnerships with specialist support services
  • Development of a Directory of specialist support services linked to the prisons

Confidentiality:  It is not the intention to openly identify sex workers who are in the care of the prison, but to acknowledge that there will be women who may disclose their involvement and to recognise there may be specific needs relating to their area of work, which if addressed, could assist in the reduction of their reoffending. Equally there may be those who do not disclose, but the SWIP project aims to nurture an environment conducive with not making women feel isolated or ostracised because of their area of work.

Project Delivery:  The Project Manager trained sex worker project staff, the Prison Liaison Officer and a pool of other prison based staff to become Trainers. They would then go on to deliver the awareness training pack as a rolling programme to staff from across their prison.

Specialist Support Services Information:  As well as developing any current partnerships with specialist support services already established in the prison, the Project Manager worked in partnership to:

  • ensure any such services had a formal partnership agreement
  • secure partnerships with new services
  • develop a directory of specialist support services to include the release areas of the prison 

Outcomes:  Throughout the initial twelve months of the SWIP project, the Project Manager monitored the training delivery and evaluated the impact of both the training and development of services, in three areas:

  • Attitudinal changes in staff
  • Knowledge development
  • Access of specialist services by women offenders

The evaluation included assessing the impact on the women and required the Project Manager to interview a group of women in each prison both pre and post the staff training being implemented.

It was hoped the project would strengthen partnerships between specialist support projects and the prisons. This would enable the voluntary/community sector service providers to develop both a practical and strategic role within the prisons and ensure that the women were better able to access support both pre and post release.

In September 2008, a seminar was held to disseminate the findings of the SWIP project evaluation, to which all participating prisons and specialist support services were invited.

An evaluation of the project was published in April 2009 and is available to download (please see below).

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PDF icon The SWIP Project Evaluation507.39 KB