Women’s experiences in the criminal justice system

Women make up around 5% of the prison population however, figures from the Prison Reform Trust suggest that women are more likely than men to report mental health issues; report experiencing emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child; be in prison for their first offence; and have a drug or alcohol problem on entry.

As part of a series of short inquiries looking at experiences in the criminal justice system, the Equality and Social Justice Committee is looking strategically at women’s experiences across the criminal justice system, with a view to identifying issues that may need a greater focus.

This inquiry will focus on the provision of services for female offenders, alongside seeking to improve understanding of the distinct needs and vulnerabilities of women who offend.

The policy landscape

While justice and prisons are reserved and come under the responsibilities of Westminster and the UK Government, there are a number of areas where the criminal justice system interacts with devolved interests and service provision. The Welsh Government, for example, has responsibility for prison healthcare and social services, and is accountable for compliance with broader policy and legislation.

The Welsh Government has also set out its approach to policy in its Female Offending Blueprint. This includes a commitment to working with devolved and non-devolved partners to reduce the number of women in the criminal justice system through a number of actions and interventions.

Terms of reference

As part of this work, the Committee will consider:


>>>the progress being made, if any, by the Welsh Government in realising its ambitions for the transformation of services for female offenders including implementation of the Female Offending Blueprint;

>>>the evidence for the development of Women’s Rehabilitation Centres and arguments for reducing custodial sentences for women in Wales, including views on the Women’s Centre that will open in Swansea; and

>>>the availability of appropriate custodial provision and support for different groups of women including girls under the age of 18, disabled women, those with mental health problems, women from ethnic minorities, those who have experienced sexual violence or domestic abuse, women with alcohol or drug problems, and Welsh speaking women.


Evidence gathering

The Committee held a consultation and received 20 responses. Information on the oral evidence sessions can be found under the meetings tab at the top of the page.

Following the evidence sessions the Committee was provided with the following additional information:

HMPPS – Additional information following evidence session

Public Health Wales – Identifying Women’s Pathways to Offending Report

ADSS – Applications to mother and baby units in prison: how decisions are made and the role of social work

North Wales Women’s Centre – Women’s Pathfinder Newsletter

Summary Report for the Evaluation of the Women’s Pathfinder Whole System Approach and 18-25 Early Intervention Service

Safer Wales – Additional evidence

Note of meeting with HMPPS in January 2023



The Committee laid its report entitled “Women’s experiences in the criminal justice system” on Wednesday 8 March 2023.

Following publication, Chair of the Committee, Jenny Rathbone MS, stated:

“Our inquiry confirms that the criminal justice system fails to meet the needs of Welsh women. Despite widespread agreement that short custodial sentences for non-violent crimes are counter-productive - they increase the likelihood of reoffending - too little progress is being made with the limited and patchy availability of community alternatives.”

Business type: Committee Inquiry

Reason considered: Senedd Business;

First published: 25/07/2022