The Mayor of London has launched a new programme to help female offenders avoid jail time and tackle the causes of crime.

Women who have committed low-level and non-violent crimes will receive support from mental health specialists and drug and alcohol abuse services.

They will also get help to improve their finances, find secure accommodation and get a job.

The scheme will be trialled for two years in Camden, Islington and Lambeth, with police, prisons, local councils and rehabilitation services working together.

Female offenders who face jail time are often uprooted from family and support networks.

Women in prison also risk losing their homes and face worse chances of employment after their sentence than men, according to research by the Prison Reform Trust.

And women are more likely to be sent to prison for a first time offence than men, but are also more likely to commit crime again after their sentence.

More than half of all female prisoners were victims of emotional, physical or sexual abuse as children, and half have experienced domestic violence.

Sophie Linden, Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, said City Hall’s scheme built on evidence from similar programmes across England.

She said: “To keep our communities safe we must be tough on crime – those who commit crimes can expect to face the full force of the law.

“We must also be tough on the causes of crime, and this pilot, solely aimed at low-level and non-violent offences, is based on evidence that shows putting women in prison for a low-level offence does more harm than good.

“That is why we are bringing together the police, prison services and rehabilitation organisations, to help female offenders onto a more positive path, cut crime and reoffending rates and keep our communities safe.”

Dr Kate Paradine, chief executive of Women in Prison charity, said the project would help London become “a national and international example”.

She said: “The only way to tackle the crisis in our criminal justice and prison system is by addressing the root causes of crime in our communities.

“Investing in women’s centres and diversion services are a vital first step to addressing this and will form essential part of London’s ‘whole system’ approach, avoiding the unnecessary harm caused by separating women from their families.”