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Prison alternative for women offenders to open

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Women will be rehabilitated closer to their children and family

A residential centre for women will be created in Wales, as an alternative to custody for those convicted of low-level crimes.

It will be the first of its kind in Wales or England and will focus on rehabilitation.

The announcement was made along with £2.5m being made available to community services supporting women at risk of being drawn into crime.

It will be awarded later this year and cover costs such as wages and rent.

The investment is part of the the UK government’s female offender strategy which looks to tackle the root causes of offending and divert women away from criminality and prison.

“Residential women centres will offer a robust alternative to short prison sentences and directly tackle the issues which often underlie offending, like substance misuse and mental health problems,” said Justice Minister Lucy Frazer.

It will enable Welsh women to stay closer to home and maintain close ties with children and wider family – something the UK government believes is key in reducing offending.

Close to home

“Having the first residential women’s centre in Wales will mean more women being supported through rehabilitation closer to home, helping them adjust back to life in their communities,” said Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart.

The Welsh Government also welcomed the move, with chief whip Jane Hutt saying: “Welsh women need a safe and secure facility that is fit for purpose, while allowing them to maintain contact with their families, particularly children. The current Covid-19 outbreak has highlighted this even further.”

The two governments will now work together to identify a provider and site, with the aim of opening the centre by the end of 2021.

Funding of £2.5m will also be given to groups involved in tackling issues such as domestic abuse, drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

Analysis by Jenny Rees, BBC Wales Home Affairs Correspondent

Many within the criminal justice system in Wales have been waiting for this news for years.

On average, there are fewer than 300 Welsh women in prison, but those numbers have been going up.

Over the last decade, more than three quarters of them were given a sentence of less than a year – in fact, a quarter of them were sent to prison for a month or less.

Which means they’ll typically have committed non-violent crimes like theft.

Given over half the women in prison have suffered domestic violence and many will have mental health or substance misuse problems, it’s widely acknowledged that if you tackle and support those issues, you’ve a better chance of rehabilitating and reducing reoffending.

As well as the personal cost, there’s also a huge cost implication to the state as women’s prison places cost £15,000 more per prisoner than a similar place for a man.

The challenge now will be deciding where to locate the new facility – it’s been argued in the past that one would be needed in both north and south Wales.

With a budget of £800,000, the facility will have 12 beds but will also act as a community resource to support many more women caught up in the criminal justice system, whether they’ve been given a custodial sentence or not.

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