On Thursday 6th May 2021, elections for Senedd Cymru (the Welsh Parliament) are taking place to elect 60 people to sit as Members of the Senedd for the next five years.
In this blog, we’ll be analysing the manifestos of the three main Welsh political parties: Plaid Cymru, Welsh Labour and the Welsh Conservatives, to summarise the key commitments of relevance to criminal justice policy and the work of voluntary sector organisations working in criminal justice in Wales. We hope that this information will be useful to the voluntary sector in planning for the potential policies of the future Welsh government.
Plaid Cymru’s manifesto has the most detailed and extensive policy proposals relating to criminal justice out of the three manifestos.
The key proposal to note, that will have a significant impact on all voluntary sector organisations working with people in contact with the criminal justice system in Wales, as well as their service users, is the call for full devolution of the criminal justice system. This includes the police, prisons, probation, and the courts, and is part of Plaid Cymru’s vision of a “fairer and more equal justice system”. This would see criminal justice policy in Wales taken out of the remit of the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and into a Welsh Justice department. This devolution principle is currently used for health and education in Wales.
Plaid Cymru’s manifesto pledges to create a Welsh criminal justice system which will focus on “problem-solving justice initiatives that tackle the root causes of offending at an early stage, focusing on prevention rather than retribution.” Examples of this include:
- Widening the range of community penalties available to the courts as an alternative to custody
- Creating an arms-length Criminal Justice Research Institute in order to embed academic expertise on justice and community safety in the Welsh policymaking process
- Tackling the root causes of substance misuse through programmes such as Checkpoint Cymru, which provides alternatives to prosecution, by identifying and supporting relevant needs and pathways out of crime, with the result being that low and medium risk adults are diverted away from the criminal justice system, whilst also addressing the underlying causes of their contact with the criminal justice system
- Establishing drug consumption rooms for people to stabilise their substance misuse
- Aiming to understand and tackle challenge crime by working with youth clubs, youth workers, schools and similar groups to improve youth services, and ensuring a youth club is located in every town.
The manifesto also commits to implementing a wider programme to eradicate systemic racism in the criminal justice system, acknowledging that in Wales you are six and a half times more likely to go to prison if you are black than if you are white (compared to the US, where the figure is five and a half times more likely). Proposals relating to systemic racism in the criminal justice system include:
- Reviewing disproportionate criminal justice outcomes and the effectiveness of the justice process in dealing with racism, with reviews drawing from the Lammy and Angiolini Reports
- Setting targets to diversify the police and magistrate benches and collaborate with bodies such as the Magistrates Association to widen the pool of candidates.
Welsh Labour pledge to pursue the case for the devolution of policing and justice, as set out in the Thomas Commission. The Thomas Commission is the Commission on Justice in Wales, which was set up by the Welsh Government and undertook a review of the justice system in Wales between December 2017 and October 2019. The final report of the Commission, which was published in 2019, recommends that policing and crime reduction policy, as well as sentencing policy and the delivery of integrated offender management and rehabilitation, should be determined in Wales so that it is an integral part of and aligned with Welsh health, education and social policy.
The manifesto makes a pledge to implement and fund the commitments made in their Race Equality Action Plan to tackle inequalities and racism faced by black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. The Race Equality Action Plan had specific commitments relating to criminal justice, including:
- Working to better understand and address race disproportionality and its causes across the criminal justice system, including the youth justice system in Wales
- Working with the Criminal Justice in Wales Delivery Group to develop a Race Equality Delivery Plan which will address the over-representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system, the under-representation of black, Asian and minority Ethnic people working within it, and strengthen relationships between the criminal justice system, including the police and Crown Prosecution Service, and black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in Wales
- Listening to the personal experiences of black, Asian and minority ethnic people involved in the criminal justice system (including victims, witnesses, prisoners, defendants etc.) in order to better meet their needs through the Race Equality Delivery Plan
- Ensuring all aspects of the Female Offending and Youth Justice Blueprints take account of racial inequalities within the criminal justice system and consider how disparity can be addressed through intervention and prevention strategies
- Displaying support for Gypsy and Traveller communities by rejecting any anti Gypsy and Traveller policy that would criminalise or attempt to force more Gypsy and Traveller communities away from traditional ways of life.
The manifesto also references policing, pledging to maintain funding of 500 Police Community Support Officers and expand their number by 100 over the next five-year term of the Senedd.
The Welsh Conservatives pledge to work with the UK government to maintain the ban on people in prison having the vote at elections. They also pledge to crackdown on unauthorised encampments with fines of up to £2500 and three months in prisons, which relates to the recent Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill 2021 and its legislative plans to create a new offence for unauthorised encampments. Additionally, the manifesto proposes to increase funding for Police Community Support Officers each year, and expand the Safer Streets fund to support CCTV and improved street lighting across Wales.
Photo: Nigel Swales | Flickr