Plaid Cymru claims ‘prisons are in crisis’ following reports of delayed sentencing due to overcrowding
Plaid Cymru has claimed “prisons are in crisis” following a report that some convicted criminals will not be sent to jail due to overcrowded prisons.
According to The Times, judges have been told not to send some criminals – including those found guilty or burglary and rape – to jail due to them nearing capacity.
Lord Edis, the senior presiding judge in England and Wales, reportedly made the comments to senior judges advising them sentencing of convicted criminals who are currently on bail be delayed from early next week.
Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader and Justice spokesperson, Liz Saville Roberts MP, said: “The news that prisons are full and convicted rapists will be free to walk the streets is a shocking result of a broken Westminster justice system.
“Prisons are in crisis. The Conservatives promised 20,000 new prison places by the mid-2020s but have delivered around 5,500. Meanwhile, the backlog of court cases is reported to have reached 63,000.
She added: “The disrespect towards the staff working within our prisons is illustrated by the fact that prison officers and the Prison Officers Association Union were not even consulted ahead of the announcement of this measure.”
Ms Saville Roberts renewed her party’s call for justice to be devolved to Wales in light of the report.
In October 2019, the Commission on Justice in Wales published its review of the justice system in Wales and concluded that “the people of Wales are being let down by the justice system in its current state”.
The central recommendation of the Commission’s report was that powers over justice should be wholly devolved and a Welsh legal jurisdiction created.
Ms Saville Roberts said: “The people of Wales are being let down by the current system. Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe, but the Tories continue to fill our prisons with low-risk offenders serving short-term sentences, rather than prioritising spaces for violent offenders.
“Moving toward properly-resourced community-based solutions for low-risk and non-violent crimes would help free up space in prisons for those who have committed serious offenses and pose a higher risk to our communities. Instead, Westminster politicians continue a hard-line rhetoric on crime, while refusing to provide the resources that the justice system so desperately needs.
“Given that health, housing, and social policy have been devolved for 25 years, it’s high time Wales is given powers over justice, so that we can create a justice system that genuinely seeks to rehabilitate offenders and create a safer society, rather than being a cynical tool for weak Westminster politicians to use for political ends.”
The Health Secretary Steve Barclay acknowledged there was “huge pressure” on the prison system but refused to confirm or deny reports that judges have been told not to jail some criminals due to prisons nearing capacity.
Asked on Sky News if the reports are true, Mr Barclay said: “It’s a longstanding convention ministers don’t comment on leaks. The Lord Chancellor will make a statement to Parliament on Monday.”
When pressed over whether prisons are full, he conceded “they’re under huge pressure” but that this was the case in “many countries”, adding it is due to the Government ensuring prisoners are in jail “for longer” and because of “pressures as a result of Covid”.
He also told the programme: “We have an absolute commitment to protect the public.”
He told broadcasters the judiciary makes independent decisions on sentencing but insisted the Government is overseeing the “fastest rollout of prison places”.
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