Jane Hutt MS, Minister for Social Justice
Members will be aware of the report published by HM Inspectorate of Prisons following its unannounced inspection of HMP/YOI Eastwood Park, Gloucestershire.
Whilst the prison service is the responsibility of the UK Government the findings are of great concern, especially as many Welsh women in custody are held at Eastwood Park.
I have requested a meeting with the Chief Inspector and HMPPS to discuss the report as a matter of urgency. The report makes for harrowing reading and identifies substantive gaps in care, and a lack of support for distressed and vulnerable women. It is vitally important Welsh women in custody are held in safe and secure facilities, which are fit for purpose.
Following publication of the report, HM Prison and Probation Service have informed us about some of the action taken since the inspection that was carried out in October. This includes refurbishing the houseblock where many of the most shocking issues were found. In response to staffing resources additional staff have been appointed, comprising of experienced prison officers from other local prisons. A dedicated Safety Taskforce Group, to improve the outcomes for women in the prison’s care, has also been established along with newly designed care plans identifying the key needs of the individual and offering bespoke care.
I am aware of the continuous journey the prison is undertaking to improve the care for women in its custody. The Counsel General and I visited HMP Eastwood Park on the 19 January and had concerns following feedback raised, including lack of access to education. I am aware that the Equality and Social Justice committee has raised shortage of staff and similar concerns through its Senedd inquiry on the experiences of women in the criminal justice system. We will continue to seek regular updates on action to address the identified issues and
The findings underline the importance of diverting women away from custody wherever possible. The Women’s Justice Blueprint, which was developed jointly by the Welsh Government, HMPPS and Policing in Wales, supports initiatives such as the Women’s Pathfinder diversion scheme and engagement work with magistrates to help ensure women are not faced with unnecessary and hugely disruptive prison sentences for minor offences.
In my recent visit I saw first-hand the value of some of the Blueprint initiatives referenced positively in the HMIP report, including the Visiting Mum Scheme, which helps children to visit parents in custody, and the important role played by the Independent Domestic Violence Advisor for Welsh women at Eastwood Park.
There is much more to be done to improve outcomes for women in contact with the justice system. As justice remains at present a reserved matter, we will continue in our commitment to reducing crime and reoffending to create a better Wales for all under the current system, alongside work to progress the case for the devolution of justice in Wales.