‘Something better’ for women offenders, demands MP Sian James

Sian James and the Howard League launch campaign for Welsh women

Frances Crook Howard League, Sian James MP, Rosa Marne Isis

Frances Crook (Howard League), Sian James MP for Swansea East, Rosa Marne of Isis Womens Centre . Source: Victoria Seabrook

Sian James today presented her manifesto at the House of Commons to keep women out of prison in Wales.

The MP for Swansea East and former Welsh Women’s Aid director cut her teeth working in prisons: she was the first prison communications officer in England and Wales. Sian James said the women she enocuntered had consistently been victims of violence themselves, and that throwing them in prison only created further problems for the women and their families.

“There must be something better than this,” she said. “We have a unique opportunity in Wales to do something differently.”

Sian James hopes to see more community and restorative justice schemes replace custodial sentences, which she says will be less destructive to the family unit. She praised the Isis women’s centres, which offer women in trouble with the law or drugs tailored schemes with life skills to help them take control of their lives.

Wayne Daivd, MP for Caerphilly, challenged the practicality of keeping women out of prison in Wales, given that the CPS and policing are not devolved powers. But Sian James said the courts’ powers of discretion, and the liklihood of further devolution to Wales in future, allow for a change in the sentencing system in Wales.

Avoiding England’s mistakes

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said women’s crimes are often related to other factors likely to make them more vulnerable, including as poverty, abuse, drugs and incarcerated family members. She said the state fails to address these issues in incarcerating many of these women.

“What we’ve learned from Rotherham is that child sexual abuse can lead to devastated lives,” said Ms Crook. “Some will respond by being very anti-social. We must stop women coming into the system in the first place.”

Ms Crook said they would have to work with the courts on sentencing too, because many women receive too onerous community sentences, which they cannot fulfill. “They’re then set up to fail. They get breached and they end up in custody.

“I hope this sets up a template so that in Wales you don’t have to make the same mistakes that we’ve made in England.

“Let’s get them to live the lives they want to lead, get their families to live the lives they want to lead and of course save the taxpayer a lot of money. What’s not to like?”

The manifesto

Men and women are different; women commit different crimes for different reasons and we therefore need to respond in different ways.

I want to divert women away from crime.

I want women who are victims themselves not to be criminalised.

I want to work with the police to resolve issues involving women quickly, locally and cheaply.

I want to work with the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to develop more imaginative sentencing options for women to heal the damage caused by crime.

I want to set up women-centred options and women centres as I recognise that many women are, first and foremost, victims of crime.

I want to develop a restorative framework in order to engage women with the victims of crime.

I want women who are at risk of offending or have committed a criminal offence to receive specialist support in the community.

Welsh solutions for Welsh problems; let Wales foster its own more effective approach.

Prisons are the past; Wales can have a better future!

For more information on women in prison in England and Wales, check out this fact sheet.

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