Possible location for housing female offenders in Wales scrapped
Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter
One possible location for housing female offenders in Wales has been scrapped, afrer the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) dropped plans to house female offenders at a hotel in Porthcawl.
Five locations in Wales were shortlisted for the centre including the Atlantic Hotel in Porthcawl, the Sunnyside development in Bridgend, and Willow House in Newport.
There are currently no female prisons in Wales and so Welsh prisoners are moved to England. The centre will be the first of its kind, aimed at preventing re-offending and offering support for domestic abuse and mental health.
The women will have to attend the new centre as part of their sentences and engage in rehabilitative support. The service is designed to help women improve their lives while staying close to their children and families.
According to the MOJ the centre would house up to 12 local women and be staffed by the National Probation Service at all times.
The ministry was considering using the Atlantic Hotel as a residential shelter for women convicted of low-level crime but has now ruled it out.
An MOJ spokesperson said: “These centres will help tackle the causes of low-level offenders’ behaviour, reduce reoffending and ultimately keep the public safe.
“A large number of changes would be needed to make Atlantic Hotel suitable with other shortlisted sites deemed more appropriate.”
The leader and senior cabinet members of Bridgend County Borough Council are “disappointed” that only one of the local sites has been dropped from the MOJ’s plans.
Council Leader Huw David said: “While I appreciate the fact that the Ministry of Justice has shared our view that the Atlantic Hotel in Porthcawl would be an unsuitable location for their proposed new centre, I am bitterly disappointed that they have not used this opportunity to also discount the Sunnyside House site as well.”
Cllr David said he previously contacted the MOJ objecting to both sites being used in Bridgend county borough because it is “absolutely the wrong place” for the service.
“Not only are we already home to South Wales’ largest prison, we also feature Wales’ only youth offending institute and medium-security facilities for people with complex mental health needs,” he added.
“Despite this, the area does not receive the level of additional resource or funding required for delivering the kind of essential support associated with such facilities. We already deal with high-risk safeguarding matters in relation to HMP Parc, Tŷ Liddiard and the Caswell Clinic, and provide a wide range of care and support for inmates at the prison alone.
“Introducing the Wales Residential Women’s Centre into the county borough would only intensify this at a time when the council has already been forced to cut more than £60m from vital services.
“I’ve previously stated that Bridgend County Borough already features more than its fair share of regional and national sites for people with complex needs, and this is still the case. I also fail to see how placing the centre opposite an all-new £23m wellness village and sheltered accommodation will benefit vulnerable residents.
“Introducing further large numbers of people who require widespread care and support would place considerable additional pressure upon services that are already in place. It would also have an impact upon primary and secondary care services, community safety and policing.”
Jamie Wallis, Conservative MP for Bridgend, said he is “pleased that common sense has prevailed in Porthcawl” and there was “a lot of anxiety” among locals regarding the plans for the Atlantic Hotel.
He said he is “really grateful” that local councillors, Senedd candidates and residents “came together to help get us the right result”.
“I’m disappointed that Sunnyside hasn’t been ruled out at this stage,” he added. “However, it also hasn’t progressed any further either. The shortlisting process continues which gives us further opportunity to make our case on Sunnyside.”
Many residents and local politicians were opposed to the MOJ’s plans to use the Porthcawl and Bridgend sites for the service, arguing it would damage the local economy, increase local crime rates and drain public resources.
Sarah Murphy, MS for Bridgend and Porthcawl, said: “I welcome the news that the UK Ministry of Justice has ruled out the Atlantic Hotel in Porthcawl as a potential site for a new Women’s Residential Centre. This will come as a huge relief to the local residents and wider community, and I would like thank them all for their swift and rigorous feedback that has ensured this outcome.
“I hope that the Ministry of Justice will now remove the other proposed location at Sunnyside House in Bridgend from the shortlist. It is equally inappropriate, and the surrounding residents deserve equal consideration.
“As I keep saying, if an all-Wales pilot scheme for women offenders is to be a success, it needs to be done properly and in the right place, not just for surrounding communities, businesses and other public services, but for the women themselves.”