We’ve never seen Wales-specific data on the criminal justice system until now. It’s been difficult to find as the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is yet to come up with a way of making Welsh data public. However, a set of Wales Governance Centre fact files, written by Dr Robert Jones, reveal statistics specifically on Welsh prisons and Welsh prisoners. Sentencing and Imprisonment in Wales – which follows Imprisonment in Wales and Sentencing and Immediate Custody in Wales – sets out these disaggregated statistics in detail. In this blog I’ll highlight the main findings from Sentencing and Imprisonment in Wales which are of interest to the voluntary sector.
Why it matters
It is essential that we are able to look at Welsh-specific data. It allows us to monitor not only the effect of UK Government criminal justice policy on Welsh prisoners and prisons but also Welsh Government policy that will affect those inside and outside the secure estate. This is particularly relevant when it comes to housing legislation and policy because changes to Welsh housing legislation have meant that the automatic right for prison leavers to receive temporary accommodation as a priority was taken away to be replaced by a national pathway for accommodation. The report states, “since its introduction [the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 sic] there have been numerous calls to reintroduce priority need for prisoners amidst growing concerns over rising levels of rough sleeping in Wales”.
With the possibility of further devolution of criminal justice in Wales, the current review of probation and Welsh Government and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service working closer together, having a specifically-Welsh data set from academic sources is very welcome and provides an interesting insight into what is going on in Welsh prisons and the effect on Welsh prisoners. The Commission on Justice in Wales is expected to publish its findings imminently. Regarding this, the report states, “it is hoped that this report will further contribute to political and academic debates on criminal justice in post-devolution Wales”.
The key data
I’ve picked out some of the report’s key data to highlight the emerging trends within Welsh prisons and concerning prisoners in Wales. The statistics relate to 2018, unless otherwise stated.
The prison population
- 4,398 people were held in Welsh prisons, an imprisonment rate of 140 prisoners per 100,000.
- The number of people held in Welsh prisons increased, due to a 116% increase at HMP Berwyn, with a significant increase in the number of English prisoners held in Wales since the prison opened (140% since December 2016).
- On average 1,379 prisoners from England were held in Wales.
- The in-country rate of imprisonment in Wales is likely to continue rising as HMP Berwyn’s population steadily increases. In June 2019 the in-country rate of imprisonment in Wales had increased to 148 per 100,000 compared to a rate of 139 per 100,000 in England.
- The number of Welsh prisoners fell by 2.2% to 4,704.
- 37% of all Welsh prisoners were held in English prisons.
- Welsh women were held in every one of the 12 women’s prisons in England, three quarters (74%) at either HMP Eastwood Park or HMP Styal.
- The percentage of people homeless on arrival increased from 24.3% in 2017 to 27.6% in 2018. At HMP Cardiff, almost a third (30.9%) of all prisoners arrived at the prison without a fixed abode.
- There were two self-inflicted deaths recorded at Welsh prisons, compared to one in the previous year. Between 2010 and 2018 there were 26 self-inflicted deaths in Welsh prisons. The recorded figures show that, on average, a prisoner in Wales takes their own life every four months.
- There were 3,024 recorded self-harm incidents.
- Whilst the total number of assaults on prison staff has increased across England and Wales, this has actually decreased in Wales by 18%. However, the number of assaults in HMP Berwyn has increased by 405%.
Sentencing and immediate custody
- There were 942 more convictions in Wales in 2018 than in 2013. The conviction rate in Wales was 87.5% compared to 86.6% in England. The custody rate was higher in Wales than in England at both Magistrates and Crown court.
- The number of immediate custodial sentences handed to women in Wales increased by 18% from 2010.
- The rate of imprisonment for black, Asian and mixed prisoners from Wales increased.
- 9.6% of all Welsh prisoners were serving sentences of less than 12 months, a decrease from 11.4% in 2017.
- A higher number of sentences of less than 12 months were given out in Wales (67.7%) than England (62.6%).
The data presented in the report shows a modest improvement in certain areas since 2017. There has been a reduction in the number of prison assaults recorded in Wales as well as a decline in the number of Welsh people in prison. However, there’s persistent problems including rising levels of prisoner homelessness, over representation of and poorer outcomes for BAME people, increasing custodial sentence lengths and a record number of self-harm incidents, drug finds and weapon discoveries in Welsh prisons. Worryingly, the data also shows that Wales has continued to have a higher imprisonment rate than England in 2018.
The question that now must be asked is “why?” Why does Wales have a higher imprisonment rate than England and why do Welsh prisons have a consistent set of problems with rising levels of homelessness at the forefront? These reports are important in highlighting where improvements are needed but we need to also understand why these issues are occurring and what can be done at both Welsh Government and UK Government level to alleviate the issues identified in the data.