(Title Image: Daily Post)
Yesterday afternoon, AMs debated a report from the Wales Governance Centre (pdf), published in June 2018, on the prison system as it works in Wales.
The criminal justice system and policing aren’t devolved to Wales, but many of the supporting services provided to prisons are the responsibility of the Welsh Government and local councils.
Public Services Secretary, Alun Davies (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) said some aspects of the report made “unhappy reading”, particularly safety concerns, concerns over the quality of accommodation at some prisons, the wide dispersal of Welsh prisoners within the English prison estate and the treatment of women.
“Up until a couple of years ago….we had no secure accommodation anywhere beyond the M4 corridor….And then when we do see a prison opened in Wrexham, it is opened with a capacity far, far beyond that which is required in the region. It is not there to serve Wales’s needs; it’s not there to serve the communities of north Wales; it’s not there to serve the interests and the needs of the people we represent here in this Chamber.”
– Public Services Secretary, Alun Davies
He repeated his support for the devolution of policing but also wants to see a penal policy that best serves Welsh needs; the future of the probation service will be debated in a fortnight.
Shadow Communities Secretary, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) said that while a proportion of prisoners from his region are dispersed to multiple prisons in England, many in the north-west of England.
The UK Government were not seeking a “one-size-fits-all” policy and were considering trialling residential centres for women prisoners and replacing ageing prisons with more modern facilities.
He was also against the devolution of prisons:
“And the ridiculousness of calls for the criminal justice system to be devolved are exposed by the First Minister’s claim that dangerous offenders could be sent across the UK after devolution to address the lack of category A prisons in Wales. What a nonsense.”
– Mark Isherwood AM
Carolines Jones AM (Ind, South Wales West) also believed this was a capacity issue that wouldn’t necessarily be solved through devolution:
“Sadly, we don’t have enough prison places in Wales to ensure that Welsh prisoners are imprisoned close to home. Wales has 4,747 prisoners, yet the five prisons in Wales have an operational capacity for 3,700 prisoners. We have no women’s prison in Wales and not a single category A prison.”
– Caroline Jones AM
Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) believed the current system was discriminatory to both Welsh-speakers and women; there’s no recognition of Welsh speakers in the prison estate and women are sent further away and separated from their children for longer than male prisoners.
While she believes the majority of people in the Senedd support a focus on rehabilitation and reducing re-offending rates – for which she got immediate support from John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) – she accused the First Minister of being “ambiguous at best” on the responsibility of the criminal justice system.
In conclusion, the Secretary said this wasn’t about an “academic review of the devolution settlement” but a policy that was failing people; we have to recognise the human consequences when government doesn’t work.