MPs concerned over how new ‘untested’ Swansea centre for female prisoners ‘will operate in practice’
MPs have expressed concern about how a new “untested” Swansea centre for female prisoners will “operate in practice”.
The Ministry of Justice is planning to set up five new Residential Women’s Centres across Wales and England but the centre in Swansea is the only one that has been announced so far.
The Commons Justice Committee said that the slow progress was “disappointing” and that called for the MoJ to provide a timeline of when the next four will be developed.
“Whilst it is disappointing that the MoJ’s progress to date in establishing five new Residential Women’s Centres has been slow, we welcome the Government’s recent announcement that Swansea will be the location of the first centre,” they said in a report.
“The Ministry of Justice should set out an indicative timeline for the development of the remaining four pilot sites.
“We recognise that the Residential Women’s Centre model is new and untested, and so we acknowledge the concerns of many of our witnesses over how the centres will operate in practice and how their provision will differ from that of custody.
“As it develops its plans for the Swansea centre and other sites, the Ministry of Justice should set out in greater detail how the centres will operate in practice, including how they will differ from custody.
“Additionally, the MoJ should set out how it intends to evaluate and report on the effectiveness of the pilot.”
MPs also criticised the UK Government’s lack of progress in cutting the number of women in prison, amid fears this could rise by more than a third in the next three years.
The Commons Justice Committee said there has not yet been “significant” change in addressing problems when holding women behind bars and not enough money had been invested to bring about improvements.
The UK Government previously pledged to reduce the number of women in custody. Justice remains an issue not officially devolved to Wales.
The committee said: “The 2018 Female Offender Strategy represented a welcome step forward in the Government’s recognition that a specific approach was needed to achieve outcomes for women.
“We are, however, concerned about the lack of progress the Government has made against the aims and objectives set out in the strategy and note that the female offender programme has lacked the investment needed to make the aims of the strategy achievable in reality.
“One of the strategic objectives of the strategy is to see fewer women in custody. While there has been a decline since February 2017 from 3,958 to 3,219 in July 2022, to a large extent this has been a result of lower crime and the reduction in court activity during the pandemic.
“Moreover, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) itself now predicts an increase in the female population by more than a third over present levels in the next three years.”
The findings also raised concerns that the “rate of violent incidents across the female estate rose during the pandemic”.
The MPs added: “While we acknowledge that the pandemic may have contributed to the increase, the MoJ and Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS) should set out what work is being done to address the level of assault across the female estate and to prevent it from increasing further.”
The report also demanded more clarity on how 500 new female prison places will be used.
Committee chairman Sir Bob Neill said: “It is welcome that the Government has understood that there are specific challenges around sending women to prison that need to be addressed, but it is disappointing that there is yet to be significant tangible change.
“The 2018 Female Offender Strategy marked an important step in recognising the needs of women in the criminal justice system, but more needs to be done to understand whether it is targeting the right areas and having a meaningful impact.
“Women entering the prison system often have challenging needs and they must be supported from the day they arrive to the day they leave and beyond.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Custody is used as a last resort for women and since we launched our Female Offender Strategy in 2018, the number entering prison has fallen by nearly a third.
“The new prison places we are building will, alongside our wider reforms, improve access to education, healthcare and work, so female offenders can turn their lives around.”
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