Less than half of Welsh prisoners return to settled accommodation on release, report says

Hundreds of prisoners are being released into homelessness in Wales, new research indicates.

The report, from Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre, shows 543 people were released from Welsh prisons without a fixed address to return to in 2018/19*. The majority of those released from prison as homeless were at HMP Cardiff (327) followed by HMP Swansea (105); HMP Parc (85); HMP Berwyn (19); and HMP Prescoed (7).

Separate data shows less than half (44%) of all prisoners managed by Welsh probation services released from custody went into settled accommodation.**

As well as gathering information already in the public domain, Welsh-only and English-only prison population data were obtained from the Ministry of Justice using the Freedom of Information Act.

Report author Dr Robert Jones said: “The Housing (Wales) Act 2014 removed prisoners from the list of people given automatic ‘priority need’ status for temporary accommodation in Wales. Since then, there have been numerous calls to re-introduce priority need for prisoners amidst growing concerns, including from prison inspections over rising levels of rough sleeping and homelessness upon release. The data included in our latest report add further weight to these concerns as well as those that have emerged in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.’

Further findings from the report, Prison, Probation and Sentencing in Wales: 2019 Factfile, show:

Covid-19

  • One in five (20%) of all confirmed Covid-19 cases among prisoners in England and Wales had been reported at Welsh prisons as of 19 June 2020. This is despite the fact that Welsh prisons held only 6% of the prison population of England and Wales at the end of June 2020.

Ethnicity

  • Black people in Wales were almost six times overrepresented in prisons in 2019. Asian prisoners were 1.9 times overrepresented and individuals from Mixed ethnic groups were 2.7 times overrepresented. Welsh individuals from a White ethnic background (0.9) were the only group to be underrepresented in prison in 2019. Although a similar trend can be seen in England, the level of overrepresentation for each of these groups is higher in Wales.

Finds in prisons

  • The number of alcohol finds in Welsh prisons (excluding HMP Berwyn***) increased by 57% in the year ending March 2020. In the same period, alcohol finds at HMP Berwyn rose by 225% at a time when its population increased by 31%.
  • In the year ending March 2020, there was a 33% rise in the number of weapons found across the Welsh prison estate (excluding HMP Berwyn). HMP Berwyn (18) had the highest number of weapon finds in Wales per 100 prisoners in the year ending March 2020. HMP Parc (12 per 100) recorded the second highest rate followed by HMP Cardiff (6 per 100), HMP Swansea (6 per 100) and the combined rate for HMP Usk/Prescoed (2 per 100).

Assaults

  • At HMP Berwyn, when its population had increased by 18%, the number of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults rose by 143% in 2019.
  • The rate of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults was highest at HMP Berwyn in 2019 with 39 incidents per 100 prisoners. The second highest level was recorded at HMP Parc (35 per 100) followed by HMP Cardiff (24 per 100), HMP Swansea (20 per 100) and HMP Usk and Prescoed (3 per 100).

Dr Jones said: “Wales continues to have one of the highest rates of imprisonment in western Europe when using either ‘home address’ or ‘in country’ calculations. Average custodial sentence lengths continue to rise, and the number of drug, alcohol, tobacco and weapon finds have climbed further.

“Furthermore, the level of overrepresentation of those from Black, Asian and Mixed ethnic groups is worryingly high. It is hoped that these findings can help to kick-start a more critically informed debate about the inequalities in the prison system in Wales. Such a discussion is long overdue.’

The report, Prison, Probation and Sentencing in Wales: 2019 Factfile, will be available to view here.

We undertake innovative research into all aspects of the law, politics, government and political economy of Wales, as well the wider UK and European contexts of territorial governance.


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