We need to stop unwanted prisons being foisted on Wales

Picture by Kazan Vperemen (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Leanne Wood AM, Leader of Plaid Cymru

This week I called on the Labour First Minister to refuse to sell Welsh Government land at Port Talbot for the development of another super-prison.

He answered that “no decision has yet been made”.

This is typical complacency we are used to, but it also shows that this unwanted prison can actually be stopped. It isn’t too late, and with at least 9,000 people objecting locally, we can keep building the case.

We’re used to unwanted developments being foisted on Wales, while being denied sustainable and useful investment.

But the Welsh Government, if it listens to campaigners and the opposition, can stop this happening. Imagine the confident message that would send to people in Wales?

The Labour Government owns a parcel of land at Baglan industrial estate which should be used for sustainable economic development. It is earmarked as being on the route of a potential Swansea Bay region Metro.

No other country that I’m aware of sees prisons as a tool for economic development, instead of a means of administering criminal justice.

The development of the HMP Berwyn super-prison should serve as a cautionary tale when it comes to the injustice of transactions between Westminster and Wales.

They give us a portion of England’s prisoners and, in return, we endure extra pressures on our already stretched local services such as the police and the NHS.

That’s why Plaid Cymru opposes the Port Talbot plan and calls for a Welsh criminal justice system based on our country’s needs.

Control

One point I put to the First Minister is that leaving probation services in Westminster’s hands has not worked. Probation is run on an ‘England and Wales’ basis, and has been partly privatised since 2014.

I and Liz Saville-Roberts MP have voiced the concerns of the family of Conner Marshall of Barry, who was failed by the probation system.

This is a system in which I used to work, but which has been modified and worsened with the introduction of profit-making companies. Staff numbers have been cut by 30%, and re-offending rates are up.

In Welsh hands, we could restore public oversight and public control. Carwyn Jones expressed support for this, but I have been in meetings to decide Wales’ devolved powers where his Labour party representative put his hand in the air to stop justice being devolved.

I again raised Conner’s case with the First Minister and am seeking to build support for an inquiry.

Turning to how we get these powers returned to Wales, a ‘justice commission’ now exists, run by the Welsh Government to build the case for devolved criminal justice.

It will report back in 2019, but quick decisions need to be made to transition to a Welsh justice system as soon as possible.

Justice

Plaid Cymru will promote and develop our own criminal justice policy for Wales.

This will be based on resourcing and training publicly accountable staff, protecting the public and the environment, enabling access to Legal Aid and support, rehabilitation and reduction of offending, and maintaining facilities which meet the needs of Wales, not the needs of other countries.

Above all, we should enforce and uphold the distinct body of Welsh law in a manner that reflects the principles agreed by citizens of Wales.

I am confident that such principles will not include profit-seeking, cost-cutting, and stripping services away from communities.

We must keep criminal justice high on the political agenda as we look to build the Welsh nation.

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