Prison alternative for female offenders to open in Wales as UK first

The UK's first residential centre for female offenders will open in Wales as an alternative to prison.

The Residential Women's Centre will provide accommodation for vulnerable women with complex needs who would otherwise be sentenced to custody.

It addresses the "catastrophic" impact of incarceration, particularly for low-level summary offences, on women and their families.

There have been calls for a prison alternative for women offenders for years.

There are no women's prisons in Wales. Credit: PA Images

Campaign group Women in Prison reports that despite making up only around 5 per cent of the prison population. women accounted for 18 per cent of all self-harm incidents in prison in the year to September 2019.

The centre will aim to tackle the underlying causes of offending, such as substance misuse and mental health problems.

The Ministry of Justice has also announced a £2.5 million boost to help steer more women away from crime.

The Deputy Minister and Chief Whip, Jane Hutt, said: “I am delighted that the first residential centre will be coming to Wales.

"Welsh women need a safe and secure facility that is fit for purpose, while allowing them to maintain contact with their families, particularly children.

"The current Covid-19 outbreak has highlighted this even further.“I’ll be working closely with the MoJ and other key partners to agree timeframes, resource allocations and a suitable location for this new facility.

"I want to pay tribute to the excellent partnership we have enjoyed to date. We’ll continue to work together to achieve an effective model, appropriate to the needs of Wales.”

HMP Berwyn, Wrexham, is the UK's biggest prison. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

The state of prisons in Wales

The prison system in England and Wales is in “deep crisis”, with violence, drug problems and overcrowding prevailing in male prisons, according to a report.

The “infliction of unjustified violence by staff on prisoners” was particularly “deeply concerning”, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) said.

A 2019 report also found that "poor communication" between the UK and Welsh Governments has led to issues of gang violence in Welsh prisons.

While Westminster holds overall responsibility for the criminal justice system, the Welsh Government provides services like healthcare and education in those prisons.

The Welsh Affairs Committee found "lack of collaboration" led to issues of inadequate healthcare and insufficient provisions for prisoners in Wales.

The committee of MPs called for women's residential centres to be established in north and south Wales in 2019. There are currently no women's prisons in Wales.

It stressed that any new prisons in Wales should be equipped "to service primarily the needs of Welsh prisoners" as opposed to being an "overspill facility" to English prisoners.