'We will not let your Government abandon you' - message to women in criminal justice system

Plaid spokesperson for Social Justice and Equalities, Sioned Williams this week urged the Welsh Government to ensure it does not let down women in the criminal justice system.

Speaking during a Senedd debate on the Equality and Social Justice's Committee's report on women's experiences in the criminal justice system, Sioned Williams MS said that the current devolution settlement, whereby criminal justice system remains under Westminster control, was letting women down.

Sioned Williams, Plaid Cymru MS for South Wales West, described the women that she had met during an ESJ Committee visit to HMP Eastwood Park as living "on the jagged edge of devolution, so disadvantaged, so discriminated against, so damaged by the fact that Wales doesn't have powers over our criminal justice system."

The Plaid MS welcomed the Welsh Government's acceptance of Recommendation 2 of the report, which states that the Welsh Government 'should endeavour to obtain devolved responsibility for women’s involvement in the criminal justice system,' but asked for clarity as to whether or not a UK Labour Government, if elected at Westminster, would allow powers over the devolution of justice to be devolved to Wales. 

Sioned Williams MS said:

"I'll never forget visiting HMP Eastwood Park as a part of the inquiry that led to this report. I will never forget the Welsh women I met there—the Welsh women who live on the jagged edge of devolution, so disadvantaged, so discriminated against, so damaged by the fact that Wales doesn't have powers over our criminal justice system.

"In our report, our committee cites and evidences the harm to women arising from the current devolution settlement. The powerful testimony we heard, the devastating stories of these women, were reinforced by the expert opinion we heard as a committee. Dr Robert Jones of the Wales Governance Centre clearly illustrated for us how that jagged edge of intersecting unaligned but shared devolved and reserved powers and responsibilities over which the criminal justice system operates in Wales is such a sharp one for women.

"So many of our recommendations as a committee, from access to and equity of rehabilitation services for women, tackling substance misuse and aiding recovery, to meeting physical and mental health needs, are dependent on this successful joining up of policy—that which is set out and embodied in the aims of the women's justice blueprint. Although broadly welcomed, time and again we found the approach of the blueprint being hampered or even undermined, and progress on its aims slow and patchy.

"As the Government agrees that custodial sentences must be an absolute last resort, then the work to ensure that sentences have alternative options to imprisoning women by provision of community-based options throughout Wales, and raising awareness of these options, must be progressed at pace. Because without this, the situations we all heard about will continue—the pointless, punishing short sentences that can completely blow up women's lives and have such a profound and lasting effect on their children. It's shameful and also baffling.

"I want to say to the women we met that we heard you, we will not forget you and, as a committee, we will not let your Government abandon you on that jagged edge of an inadequate devolution settlement."

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