An action plan has been launched to reverse the shock rise in short jail sentences received by women in North Wales.
The “worrying trend”, which saw an 88 per cent increase from 40 in 2010 to 75 in 2015, was highlighted at a summit hosted by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones.
Mr Jones, the Prison Reform Trust and other agencies, have proposed a series of urgent recommendations. after hearing that proportionately more jail sentences of six months or less were handed out to women in North Wales than almost anywhere else in the UK.
The report’s recommendations have now been accepted by the North Wales Criminal Justice Board and have been included in their delivery plan for the next year.
One of the priorities is that there should be more out-of-court solutions like cautions, community sentences and referrals for support from organisations like the North Wales Women’s Centre in Rhyl.
According to Mr Jones, there is often a link between women’s offending and the fact that they have been victims of domestic violence or trafficking, which could lead to eother issues like mental health problems, drug-taking or prostitution.
Mr Jones said: “The paucity of mental health services, long waiting times and prohibitive need thresholds are a real challenge with implications for police time.
“Many women who come into contact with the criminal justice system have mental health needs and learning disabilities, and psychiatric services are currently the biggest referrer to North Wales Women’s Centre in Rhyl.
“There is good evidence to show women’s centres are more effective than prison in reducing offending.”
Mr Jones also paid tribute to the tireless campaigning on the issue by Howard Thomas, the former chief probation officer of North Wales.
For his part, Mr Thomas welcomed the plan as a major step forward.
National statistics showed one third of women prisoners lost their homes and often their possessions while serving their sentence and 38 per cent of them did not have accommodation when released.
Mr Thomas said: “Being sent to prison, even for a short period, has a major impact on the lives of the women affected and their families.
“It also makes their rehabilitation more difficult as evidenced by the 61 per cent reconviction rate for those serving short sentences.”