Inadequate support leads to women re-offending – Senedd report

Published 09/03/2023   |   Last Updated 09/03/2023   |   Reading Time minutes

Welsh women need more support to stay out of prison, according to a Senedd report.

The Equality and Social Justice Committee is calling for responsibility around women’s involvement in the criminal justice system to be devolved to the Welsh Government.

The Committee found that prison sentences as short as a week are normal, despite offering no opportunity for rehabilitation.

And with no women’s prisons in Wales, the impact on children is devastating  – women in custody will be 100 miles from their home on average, adding costs and time pressures on mums.

Jenny Rathbone MS, Chair of the Senedd’s Equality and Social Justice Committee, said:

“Our inquiry confirms that the criminal justice system fails to meet the needs of Welsh women. Despite widespread agreement that short custodial sentences for non-violent crimes are counter-productive - they increase the likelihood of reoffending - too little progress is being made with the limited and patchy availability of community alternatives.

“We were shocked to learn that short custodial sentences, sometimes as short as a week, continue to persist despite having little to no benefit. This is just enough time for a woman to lose her home, her job, and her family; but not enough time for any meaningful intervention which aims at rehabilitation or tackling underlying issues.

“We recognise that some women are in prison because of the seriousness of their crimes.

“But the vast majority are given short custodial sentences for non-violent offences, which are completely counter-productive. . They are traumatic for the individuals and devastating for  their children. They are also eye-wateringly expensive and have very poor outcomes.

“In 2007 a landmark report by Baroness Corston called for a radically different approach for women in the criminal justice system. Over fifteen years later, progress with implementing Corston’s recommendations has been disappointingly slow. But we hope the recommendations set out in our report will help accelerate delivering that vision and end the cycle of trauma and waste of public money.”

Accommodation Support

The Committee’s inquiry considered data compiled by Women in Prison, which highlights the stark reality for women when they leave prison.

Those figures show that 56.1% of women who have served a custodial sentence will reoffend within one year.

This figure rises to 70.7% of women who have been released following a short custodial sentence of less than 12 months.

Contributors to a focus group told the Committee the lack of support was the main reason for re-offending. One contributor said:

“I feel like we, as prisoners, should be given more services . . . Many a time I think to myself, why can’t I go back? I was safe in there [prison], I had people around me, my mental health was better.”

The Committee that heard repeated concerns about the lack of accommodation in particular and note that work is underway to address this.

Considering that women released from prison are an extremely vulnerable group of people, it recommends that the Welsh Government should set out how it will influence future provision of accommodation.  

Devolution of Responsibility

The inquiry also found that frustration around the limitations of what is within the power of the Welsh Government could be hindering progress.

The Committee welcomed the Welsh Government’s collaborative and women-centred approach, but questioned the sustainability of the current arrangements in the longer term, highlighting comments by the First Minister of a “moral hazard” of providing funding for justice initiatives that are not devolved.

While prisons, courts and parole are not devolved, the Welsh Government is responsible for services which overlap with the justice system, including substance misuse, physical and mental health, and housing. The success of these services rely on partnership working across devolved and non-devolved areas.

To enable Wales to set its own course in this area, the Committee calls for the Welsh Government to seek devolved responsibility for women’s involvement in the criminal justice system, which would allow it to accelerate reducing women’s involvement in the criminal justice system, as well as more effective sentencing and rehabilitation.



More on this story

Women’s experiences in the criminal justice system Read the report

Inquiry: Women’s experiences in the criminal justice system