Women’s Strategy welcomed but falls short on resources for women’s services in the community, to really make a difference

Welsh Women’s Aid welcomes the Ministry of Justice Strategy (published today, 27 June 2018) for women in the criminal justice system in England and Wales, but calls on Westminster and Welsh Government to adequately resource women’s services in the community to make the proposals work.

Eleri Butler, CEO of welsh Women’s Aid said:

At Welsh Women’s Aid, many of our member services support women involved in the criminal justice system, and we know that over half of women in prison today report they have been victims of domestic abuse or emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child.

Women involved in the criminal justice system have often been victims of much more serious offences than those they have been convicted for, and we know that sentencing women for low level offending, usually by revolving-door short sentences, damages women and children’s lives. Seven in 10 women serve sentences of 6 months or less, with some serving a month or two weeks, yet this is enough for women to lose their jobs, home and children.

We welcome UK Government’s commitment to abandon building more women’s prisons, and instead to ‘pilot’ five residential women’s centres across England and Wales that offer community support to keep women away from prison.

We also welcome a greater focus on improving community services, a commitment to ensure Black and minority women’s needs are met, and the critical role the women’s voluntary sector has in providing support for women facing multiple disadvantage. Yet without further detail on timing and responsibility for delivery and without sufficient resources to make this work, it will be difficult to monitor progress and the state will continue to fail women who need community-based support.

Women’s centres and services across Wales and England have already been delivering highly effective support for women in the community for many years, which helps turn their lives around. Women’s services in the third sector in Wales provide support for women impacted by abuse to access safety and protection, support around accessing or keeping employment, accessing counselling, mental health and drug treatment services, housing related support and support for children and young people. By diverting women into community support services designed to meet their needs, they help prevent women’s re-offending and save public services the considerable cost of imprisonment and picking up the pieces after lives have been damaged.

So for this Strategy to make a difference, it is essential that Welsh Government and Westminster work together to invest in community responses, making sure that third sector women’s centres and services in Wales are properly funded to continue their vital work, because at the moment, demand for support grows whilst many support services are at breaking point.

Welsh Women’s Aid looks forward to working with the UK and Welsh Governments to create lasting change so the needs of women, particularly Black and minority women, are better recognised and met by the justice system, and to make sure that specialist women’s services are fully involved in implementing this strategy.”