"Imprisonment in Wales: A Factfile" - Ground-breaking Report by Wales Governance Centre and University of South Wales

The Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University, and the Centre for Criminology at the University of South Wales yesterday published a ground-breaking report into Imprisonment in Wales (please click the link at the bottom of the page to access the full report):

Executive Summary

  • There are five male prisons in Wales that each hold a mixture of convicted, unconvicted, sentenced and unsentenced prisoners. Prison capacity in Wales has steadily increased since 2010; the prison population in Wales was 4,291 at the end of April 2018.

  • Prisons in Wales are performing less well than prisons in England on a range of prison safety measures. The number of recorded self-harm incidents and prison assaults in Wales has increased at a higher rate than prisons in England since 2010. There were more prison disturbances at HMP Parc in 2016 and 2017 than at any other prison in England and Wales.

  • Despite an increase in prison capacity in Wales, 39% of all Welsh prisoners were being held in English prisons in 2017. In a large number of cases, Welsh prisoners are placed in establishments far away from home; Welsh prisoners were held in 108 different prisons in 2017.

  • The recent opening of HMP Berwyn has resulted in a significant rise in the number of English prisoners held in Wales. The English prison population in Wales more than doubled in 2017. More than a quarter of all prisoners held in Wales were from England at the end of March 2018.

  • The number of Welsh women handed immediate custodial sentences has increased by almost a fifth since 2011. Due to the fact that there are no female prisons in Wales, all Welsh women in prison are held in prisons in England. The distances from home facing Welsh women are often considerably higher than those facing Welsh adult males and female prisoners from England.

  • The majority of Welsh women sentenced to immediate custody have been convicted of nonviolent offences. Three quarters of all Welsh women receiving immediate custodial sentences in 2016 were given sentences of less than 6 months; this rate is higher than the England and Wales total.

  • The number of Welsh children in custody has fallen by 72% since 2010. 109 custodial sentences were handed to children in Wales in 2017, a rate that was marginally higher than the level in England.

  • 45% of all Welsh children in custody were being held in establishments in England during 2017. The distances facing children in prison have been shown to reduce the number of family visits, hinder 'through the gate' support services, and increase the sense of alienation and isolation that children experience in prison.

  • Recent evidence suggests that prisons across England and Wales are failing to meet the needs of Welsh-speaking prisoners. Despite recent signs of improvement in Wales, concerns remain about the state of Welsh language provision in establishments in England and in Wales.


The findings presented within this factfile reveal the specific and unique imprisonment problems facing people in and from Wales. From record levels of self-harm and assaults in prison, to above average distances for Welsh adult men, women and children in custody, this report offers a Welsh dimension to the many challenges and problems that are currently subject to fervent debate across England and Wales. The issues that emerge throughout this report raise a number of important and wide-ranging questions about imprisonment in Wales.

First, it remains the case that many sources of 'Welsh-only' justice data can only be accessed by Freedom of Information requests, a route that, while useful, limits the accessibility of such data to public debate at the broader level. But the stark evidence of specific Welsh challenges presented throughout this report highlight the importance of gathering and analysing up-to-date and accessible 'Welsh-only' imprisonment data. This report should, therefore, further convince the Ministry of Justice to fulfil its 2017 commitment to make 'Welsh-only' justice data more easily available to a wider audience.

Second, the many problems discussed throughout this report raise important questions about political accountability for imprisonment in post-devolution Wales. While responsibility for tackling many of the issues outlined here undoubtedly lies with UK Government ministers in Whitehall, the influence that Welsh ministers have over offender healthcare, tackling substance misuse, safeguarding children, prison education and promoting the Welsh language mean that remedies can - and should - originate in Wales. At the very least, a much clearer understanding of the problems that exist within the Welsh justice system and an appreciation of the Welsh Government's extensive responsibilities in this area should help to kick-start a more critically informed debate over Wales' current and future penal landscape.

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