Justice and Policing
Devolution of Police and Justice
It is unacceptable that Wales is the only nation in the UK without powers over its policing and justice policies.
We are committed to the devolution of policing and justice to Wales to empower us to implement and pursue policies that serve the interests of our citizens and communities. This will allow us to create integrated people-centred services – from prisons to counselling to housing – to replace the present callous approach that prioritises targets over people’s needs.
Police budgets have been slashed, putting far fewer officers on the street. The Welsh forces have been hit harder than those in the rest of the UK, due to an unfair funding formula. Between 2010 and 2018, the number of police officers in Wales decreased by 9%. Devolution of policing will give us an extra £25 million a year to spend on our police forces.
In recent years we have come to understand more about the relationship between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) – traumatic events such as sexual or physical abuse, domestic violence, and parental separation – and future offending and imprisonment.
The Welsh ACEs study showed that people who have experienced four or more ACEs are 14 times more likely to have been a victim of violence over the last 12 months, 15 times more likely to have committed a violent crime, and 20 times more likely to have been imprisoned at any point in their lifetime. Eight in ten prisoners in Wales had at least one ACE and nearly half had four or more ACEs. Within the general population, around 46% have one ACE and 14% have four or more. The best way therefore of preventing crime, is early detection and prevention of Adverse Childhood Experiences which will lead to benefits later in life as well as helping children in the here and now.
We believe that a preventative approach across health, criminal justice, education and other settings is more effective in tackling youth offending. Addressing the underlying causes of crime, such as protecting children from abuse or neglect, is proven to reduce criminal behaviour. In civil matters, early intervention and sound advice can prevent the involvement of the courts and can reduce hardship for many people.
As part of our preventative approach, we will implement a long-term substance use harm reduction strategy. Problems and deaths from substances are more prevalent in Wales than other parts of the UK. We want to reduce substance use and substance related deaths by investing in a long-term strategy. This should focus on harm reduction through a wide range of services and education programmes that treat problematic substance users as patients rather than criminals.
Community-based interventions are more effective at reducing re-offending and social exclusion than short-term imprisonment. Short custodial sentences offer limited opportunities for rehabilitation and many people leave custody with the same underlying issues as when they entered.
Courts and Legal Aid
Plaid Cymru has been vociferously opposed to the British Government’s reforms to the legal aid budget which have stripped thousands of people of access to legal aid. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 effectively reversed the previous legal aid scheme, removing most civil legal matters from the scope of legal aid.
Plaid Cymru will reverse the harsh cuts so that people who are currently unable to access legal aid can exercise their right to justice. This should include the establishment of a simpler and more generous assessment scheme for civil legal aid, ensuring all benefit recipients automatically qualify for legal aid, and making the contributions to legal aid more affordable.
Wales has the highest incarceration rate in western Europe, with one in every 667 people in the country behind bars. The prison-industrial complex in the UK has meant that four of the five prisons in Wales are overcrowded, leading to a deterioration of conditions for both staff and inmates.
One of the most effective ways of ensuring the rehabilitation of an inmate is to house them close to their local community and families. However, 39% of Welsh prisoners are held in England and 30% of prison spaces in Wales are for English inmates. We believe that inmates should be placed as close to their local communities as possible.
We do not believe that super-prisons are the most effective way of combating crime nor the best use of our resources. That is why we opposed the building of the Berwyn super-prison in Wrexham and the proposed super-prison in Port Talbot which was scrapped due to our opposition.
Entering the criminal justice system can either be a symptom of or cause longer-term issues. These include homelessness, mental health issues and substance misuse. Almost 25% of Welsh inmates were homeless when they entered prison, over 90% of prisoners have at least one of five psychiatric disorders, and there was a 475% increase in drug finds in prisons over the last year.
Poverty and poor health are being criminalised. This needs to change by ensuring that support services are well-funded and by tackling the underlying issues that can lead to criminality.
According to research by the Wales Governance Centre, those from Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic backgrounds are disproportionately represented in prisons and the criminal justice system. In 2017, black people were 4.5 times overrepresented in prison, Asian prisoners were 1.7 times overrepresented and individuals from mixed ethnic group were 2.4 times overrepresented.
Plaid Cymru will fully implement the recommendations of the Lammy Review to address the disparity of treatment and outcomes for black and minority ethnic people within the criminal justice system, together with the Angiolini Review on deaths and serious incidents in police custody.
Women in the Justice System
Women in Wales are especially ill-served by the justice system, with all Welsh female prisoners being held in one of the twelve women’s prisons in England. This often results in the separation of young children from their mothers and makes family visits difficult. Moreover, there is a complete absence of Welsh language services for women prisoners.
The crimes committed by men and women can vary significantly. Women’s offending tends to be of a less serious nature, which means they tend to serve a shorter sentence. In 2016, 74% of all women convicted were sentenced for less than 6 months.
Short-term sentences often bring considerable chaos and disruption to the lives of women and their families, conversely, women who complete short-term sentences are more likely to re-offend than those sentenced to a court order.
Women are also overwhelmingly sent to prison for theft rather than violent offences. Often, women are stealing to feed their children or to support a partner’s drug habit. According to the Prison Reform Trust around half of women have been victims of crimes that are more serious than the ones for which they are being imprisoned.
We will use suspended sentences for those women who are charged with non-violent crimes, dampening the disruption caused to them and their family. Rather than being ‘soft’ on crime, this is in line with best practice as it lowers reoffending rates in comparison to short-term custodial sentences.
Plaid Cymru will support a dedicated, small, prison or secure centres for female prisoners in Wales, to ensure access to family support networks as we accept that there will be occasions where a custodial sentence is appropriate and justified.
An estimated one in five women have experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16. Rape is still an under-reported crime and it is estimated by the Crime Survey for England and Wales that only one in six victims of rape report the incident to the police.
There were only were three convictions for every 100 rape cases recorded by the police in England and Wales in the past year. Although the number of alleged rapes recorded by the police increased by 9%, the number of charges fell by 38%, prosecutions by 33% and convictions by 27%.
More needs to be done to tackle this heinous crime and our approach will be multidisciplinary and work across a plethora of institutions. From an early age we will teach our children about respectful relationships and consent in schools where they can be informed about what constitutes a healthy relationship. We will also launch a public information campaign to make clear what counts as consent and tackle rape culture. For those that have already committed sexual assault we will ensure that perpetrator programmes are well funded in prisons and within probation teams in order to minimise the risk of this crime happening in future.
We will ensure that the police, magistrates and juries have the correct information with regards to the handling of complaints and the correct information about what constitutes rape. Only a tiny minority of cases fit under the ‘textbook’ definition of rape and those within the Criminal Justice System must be aware that rape can be between partners or between those that have been intimate in the past.
For those that have been a victim of this crime we will ensure that Sexual Assault Referral Centres are properly funded with adequate training for the professionals that work there. We will also ensure that counselling services are available and well-funded as victims of rape can suffer from co-occurring issues relating to mental health and drug and alcohol abuse, especially due to self-medication.
Racism and Hate Crime
Everyone should be able to feel safe and respected within their communities. In Wales, Plaid Cymru will work with Police and Crime Commissioners to ensure that all hate crime – including homophobic, racist anti-disability, Roma, Traveller and Gypsy hate crime, and online abuse – is treated as a serious offence by Welsh police forces and investigated appropriately so that victims can feel confident and secure in reporting incidents.
We will proactively combat Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-migrant sentiment and all forms of racism and bigotry in politics, on our streets, online and in our media. We will work to increase the participation of minorities and women in politics and public life.