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Self-harm incidents in Welsh prisons reach new high

7 August 2019

Prisoner's hands clasped around prison bars

The number of self-harm incidents in Welsh prisons has reached record levels, figures from Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre show.

Drawing on data from Freedom of Information requests as well as publicly available Ministry of Justice figures, the report shows that self-harm incidents (excluding HMP Berwyn*) rose by 16% in the year ending March 2019, following a record figure the previous year.

There were also a record number of drug finds, up 61% on the previous year. Incidents involving weapons finds also rose significantly.

Wales continues to have a higher rate of imprisonment than England. The new report also uncovers for the first time that there are more people under probation supervision in Wales than in England.

Author Dr Robert Jones, who has been collecting Wales-only data since 2013, said: “Our findings reveal the persistence of a set of problems in Wales that include a record number of self-harm incidents, drug finds and weapons discoveries. Rising levels of homeless people entering prison and an over-representation of prisoners from ethnic minorities also continue to be serious issues.

“The figures, which often vary greatly from overall figures for England and Wales, underline the need for all Welsh-only imprisonment data to be made freely available by the Ministry of Justice.”

Further findings from Sentencing and Imprisonment in Wales, 2018 Briefing, show:

  • Self-harm incidents increased at HMP Usk by 200%, HMP Cardiff by 89% and HMP Swansea by 56% in 2018. The number of incidents recorded at HMP Parc declined by 4%. Despite this fall, an average of four self-harm incidents a day were recorded there;
  • In total, including HMP Berwyn, there were 3,024 self-harm incidents in Welsh prisons last year;
  • While the number of prisoners held in Wales (excluding HMP Berwyn) has increased by 5% since 2013, there was an 822% increase in the number of drug finds in Welsh prisons (excluding HMP Berwyn) during this period. This compares to a 333% increase for England and Wales as a whole.
  • The number of drug finds at HMP Berwyn increased by 328% in the year ending March 2019. The prison’s population increased by 67% during this period;
  • HMP Cardiff had the highest rate of drug finds in Wales at 51 per 100 prisoners, followed by HMP Swansea (48 per 100), HMP Parc (29 per 100), HMP Berwyn (16 per 100) and HMP Usk/Prescoed (4 per 100);
  • HMP Berwyn (11) had the highest number of weapon finds in Wales per 100 prisoners, followed by HMP Parc (10 per 100), HMP Cardiff (4 per 100) and HMP Swansea (3 per 100);
  • Despite holding just 2% of the total prison population in England and Wales, 9.3% of all prison disturbances were recorded at HMP Parc in 2018.
  • The percentage of those arriving into Welsh prisons as homeless increased in 2018 – from 24% in 2017 to 28% in 2018. At HMP Cardiff, almost a third (31%) of all prisoners arrived at the prison without a fixed abode;
  • The rate of imprisonment for people from ethnic minorities from Wales increased in 2018. There were 76 black people from Wales in prison for every 10,000 of the population. This rate compares to just 15 white people per 10,000 of the population.
  • In 2018, the average number of Welsh women in prison reached its highest level since the Wales Governance Centre began collecting Welsh-only data in 2013.
  • The number of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults decreased by 8% in 2018.
  • The number of people held in the Welsh prison estate increased in 2018, due to a rise in the number of prisoners at HMP Berwyn, which opened its doors in 2017. Berwyn recorded the highest rate of assaults on staff, weapon finds and alcohol finds per 100 prisoners in 2018.
  • The rate of people under probation supervision has been higher in Wales than England since 2013. When the imprisonment rate and court order rates are combined for 2018, the correctional population in Wales was 373 per 100,000, compared to 329 per 100,000 in England.

Dr Jones added: “Our ongoing work in the area of justice in Wales can contribute to ongoing and future discussions over the trajectory of penal policy. Future debates may wish to adopt a more comparative approach by drawing upon evidence of international best practice. This is a subject that we are currently investigating.”

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