Deputy Minister to address conference on delivering more effective responses to offending by women
Jane Hutt AM, Deputy Minister for the Welsh Government, will set out plans today (10 October) on working in partnership to reduce the number of women in Wales in prison.
The Cardiff summit, jointly hosted by Prison Reform Trust, Clinks, Community Justice Cymru and the Welsh Government, will bring together ministers, government officials, organisations supporting women in the justice system and women with lived experience, to support the delivery of the Female Offending Blueprint, published by the Welsh Government earlier this year.
The event is being delivered as part of the Prison Reform Trust’s UK wide Transforming Lives programme to reduce women’s imprisonment, and to encourage implementation and investment in better responses to reducing crime committed by women.
Because women overwhelming commit low level, and non-violent crimes many serve short spells behind bars, compounding their problems and providing little opportunity to get the support they need. In 2018, four out of every five women sentenced to custody in Wales was given a prison sentence of less than a year.
There has been a 30% decrease in the number of community sentences given to women in Wales since 2010. Courts in Wales currently send more women to prison per capita than elsewhere in the UK despite having no women’s prison there. This means that women are held many miles away in England—far from family and the communities they will return to. The average distance from home for Welsh women in prison is 101 miles.
A community sentence costs a tenth of a custodial sentence and is much less likely to result in a woman reoffending. Rather than committing significant sums to building a women’s prison in Wales, the Blueprint rightly aims to invest in more effective disposals in the community, which recognise the types of crimes women tend to commit.
Services such as the North Wales Women’s Centre in Rhyl, provide effective support in a safe setting for women to address the underlying issues which contribute to their offending, including abusive relationships, unmet mental health needs and substance misuse. Analysis by the Ministry of Justice shows that women who attend and receive support from women’s centres are less likely to reoffend than those who do not. However, this it is currently the only women’s centre in Wales.
The Female Offending Blueprint sets out the Welsh Government’s distinct approach. With Wales set to become the first place to have a reunified probation service, following the UK government’s failed Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, this marks a significant opportunity to deliver a more effective community focused justice system for Welsh women.
Jenny Earle, programme director for the Prison Reform Trust’s programme to reduce women’s imprisonment welcomed publication of the Blueprint and said:
“Most of the solutions to women’s offending lie in the community, with increased access to women-centred support. The Blueprint sets the agenda for reform but it needs to be adequately funded and swiftly implemented to stem the intergenerational harm flowing from the unnecessary imprisonment of women.”
Jane Hutt AM, Deputy Minister and Chief Whip for the Welsh Government said:
“I have long held the view that too many women are being sent to prison, often for relatively minor offences. The impact of such an approach, on the woman, her children, and her wider family, is often catastrophic and life-long.
“The Female Offending Blueprint, launched in May, brings together a range of partner organisations with a defined focus on early intervention and prevention, diverting people away from crime before an offence is committed but, when people do offend, ensuring effective systems are in place to provide swift and effective rehabilitation.”
Welsh police force fact sheets, which provide information on recent trends in the use of immediate custody for women, regional comparisons and a breakdown of the offence types for which women are sent to prison, are available by clicking here.