A 'GROUND-BREAKING' scheme designed to stop reoffending by vulnerable women has been launched in Dorset.

Led by the Footprints Charity, staff and volunteers will work with women who have committed first time low-level crimes.

Charity bosses are now eager to hear from women who want to train as volunteer mentors for the programme.

It is hoped the scheme will address problems such as mental health issues, domestic abuse, poverty and homelessness.

Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill, who is backing the project, said: "Clearly, there are many criminals out there who deserve nothing but custodial sentences.

"However, simply sending everyone who commits their first minor offence to prison is a bad way of reducing reoffending and a good way of creating career criminals.

"Nationally, more than 70 per cent of women who serve sentences of less than 12 months end up reoffending within a year – and that is a situation in which there are no winners.

"This scheme is about putting meaningful interventions into place and breaking that revolving door which sees people leaving prison just to go on to commit further offences."

Staff and volunteer mentors from the charity will hold regular meetings with the women over a 16-week period.

The women will be identified by Dorset Police's Out of Court Disposals team, and it is thought at least 100 women may be referred within a year.

Footprints chief executive officer Caroline Stevens said: "Footprints has a long history of training volunteers to be part of the local solution to crime.

"We would love to hear from women who would like to volunteer and be part of this ground breaking project."

The scheme follows publication of the Ministry of Justice’s Female Offender Strategy, which recognised many women have complex needs and that short term prison sentences did not benefit offenders or the community.

Mr Underhill said: "This is about trying to help women deal with those issues that have led to them carrying out low level offences in the first place.

"I hope to see this will provide them with the necessary support to stop this downward spiral and help prevent them from committing further offences."

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer should contact info@footprintsproject.co.uk