Senedd agrees that the criminal justice system is failing Wales

(Title Image: Daily Post)

The Motion (Amended/Final Version)

The Senedd:

  • Notes the report by the Wales Governance Centre, ‘Sentencing and Immediate Custody in Wales: A Factfile’ and expresses concern at the reports finding’s regarding the high incarceration rate and disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities and women.
  • Notes previous research by the Wales Governance Centre which has revealed widespread safety and wellbeing issues in Wales’s prisons, including increasing rates of substance misuse, self-harm, violence and suicide.
  • Notes that a number of young offenders from Wales serve prison sentences in England and that incarceration has a negative impact on young people’s future life chances.
  • Welcomes the work of the Commission on Justice in Wales and looks forward to its recommendations about future responsibilities for policing and justice in Wales.
  • Calls for: the ruling out of further ‘super prisons’ in Wales; the full reunification of the probation service and end to partial privatisation;a focus on community-based approaches for non-violent crimes and an end to the overuse of shorter prison sentences; an end to custodial sentences for young people and women other than in exceptional circumstances; the right to vote for prisoners in Welsh elections.

Criminal justice system “failing our communities”

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) said recent figures showing Wales has one of the highest imprisonment rates in Europe should “shame us all”. The criminal justice system, as it is, fails our communities – Wales has a high imprisonment rate despite having a lower crime rate than England.

The privatisation of probation services has been botched and the closure of magistrates courts has meant people have had to travel further to access justice. Leanne called for a more progressive criminal justice system which keeps people out of prison wherever possible, particularly for non-violent offences like drugs possession and petty theft.

“I’m pleased that the Welsh Government have today supported our calls for a fairer justice system that works. I’ve been disappointed recently, however, to hear the new First Minister say that he’s not in favour of the full devolution of justice to Wales, and instead favours a more piecemeal approach. I would ask him, if he agrees with what we are calling for, from focusing on rehabilitation to ending private profits from prisons, then why wait?”
– Leanne Wood AM

Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West) said Wales deserved better than to have prisons that we don’t really need being foisted on us by the UK Government. Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) raised the inadequate services available to Welsh-speaking prisoners and women prisoners.

Reoffending rates “too high”

Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) told AMs the UK Government has consistently argued that reoffending rates are too high. UK Government prison reforms weren’t about increasing capacity but replacing ageing Victorian prisons; HMP Berwyn in Wrexham is the UK’s first designated rehabilitation prison.

Mark was particularly sceptical about giving prisoners the vote. The priority should be the rights of victims and he accused Plaid Cymru of also pre-empting a Committee inquiry into the issue of prisoner voting:

“Plaid Cymru’s call, echoed by Labour Ministers, for prisoners to have a right to vote in Welsh elections is not mentioned in either of their 2016 manifestos. The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee are currently undertaking an inquiry into voting rights for prisoners, and any support for today’s motion will be pre-empting our findings.”
– Mark Isherwood AM

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) said there were serious questions to answer as to whether harsher sentences for the same crime were being handed down to Welsh offenders when compared to English offenders.

Welsh Government contradicts own evidence to criminal justice powers commission?

Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) has proven himself to be a highly effective backbencher in the past and he didn’t spare the rod. He accused the Welsh Government of contradicting evidence it submitted to the Thomas Commission that criminal justice was failing Wales and should be devolved; Mark Drakeford seems to favour a more piecemeal approach.

“I regret that the Government has sought to amend the Plaid Cymru motion this afternoon – I believe that it’s an error of judgement. The Government would have been better off supporting the Plaid Cymru motion. I’d be interested to hear the Minister’s explanation as to why she’s seeking to amend the motion today. I’ll be very clear as well: I’m not minded to support the Government’s amendment today, because I believe it does bring equivocation into an area where the Government has been very clear.”
– Alun Davies AM

Replying on behalf of the government, Deputy Minister without portfolio, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan), told AMs the Welsh Government supports the principle of giving prisoners the right to vote but is awaiting the outcome of the aforementioned Committee inquiry.

While skipping around the question as to whether the Welsh Government still supports devolution of criminal justice, the Deputy Minister said there was a “clear direction of travel” towards that – though she didn’t want to pre-empt the recommendations of the Thomas Commission either.

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