Responding in the Senedd this week to the Statement by the Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip: ‘Update on Criminal Justice Blueprints’, North Wales MS and Shadow Social Justice Minister Mark Isherwood questioned her over issues including Wales having the highest proportion of children in the UK in care.
“The Youth Justice Blueprint for Wales states that ‘Options will be explored to align preventative services offered to children, including those targeted at reducing the number of looked-after children, the prevention of school exclusions, and homelessness’, services which are the responsibility of the Welsh Government, to prevent children from entering the criminal justice system in the first place. How, therefore, does the Minister propose to reconcile this with the reality that, after running the show since 1999, Wales has the highest proportion of children in the UK in care, and one of the highest proportions of children looked after by any state in the world?”
Mr Isherwood also referred to the Senedd Equality and Social Justice Committee’s findings that young people with speech, language and communication needs in Wales are not being given enough support as they navigate through the justice system, something first raised by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists in the Senedd some two decades ago, when he was party to that Report.
“60 per cent of young people involved with the youth justice system have speech, language and communication needs, despite making up just 10 per cent of young people as a whole. Despite the High Court ruling in 2018 that the exclusion of an Autistic pupil for behaviour arising from their autism was unlawful, this is still happening in Wales, and 3,350 dependent children under 16 in Wales are in temporary accommodation—a third in hotels and bed and breakfasts.”
He also again raised concerns over the Welsh Government’s decision to place one of the pilot Women’s Residential Centres, announced by the UK Government as an alternative to imprisonment, near Swansea in South Wales, questioning how this will help vulnerable women offenders in North, Mid and West Wales to access the services they need closer to home.
“What due diligence did the Minister undertake beforehand, where Swansea's Planning Committee subsequently refused this and it's only due to go ahead now after Appeal? And how will this help vulnerable women offenders in North Wales to access the services they need, and their families, closer to home, when, for example, the distance from Wrexham to Swansea is 133 miles, but only 50 miles to HMP Styal Women's Prison?”
In his response, Mr Isherwood also noted that despite the Minister’s claims to the contrary, Welsh and UK Government policies on criminal justice matters are closely aligned.
“The Welsh Government and UK Ministry of Justice published Women's Justice and Youth Justice Blueprints jointly in May 2019, to improve partnerships between devolved and non-devolved services, developed jointly with HM Prison and Probation Service and the Youth Justice Board. So, will the Minister again confirm that this is about how the two Governments are working together, as she did here when I responded to her Statement on Justice Blueprints last November? Will she also confirm the fact that this aligns with the UK Government's female offender strategy, to divert vulnerable offenders away from short prison sentences, and with the UK Government's Youth Justice Strategy, to catch and prevent youth offending earlier than ever?”