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Prisoner numbers rise amidst Covid-19 outbreak

14 April 2020

Prisoner's hands clasped around prison bars

The number of people held in Welsh prisons reached its highest ever level in March 2020, according to a report from Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre.

Amid growing concerns over the spread of Covid-19 within the England and Wales prison estate, Ministry of Justice data reveal that the prison population in Wales rose between February and March. This follows previous research from the Wales Governance Centre which found that Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe.

The report also finds that Wales continues to experience a higher in-country imprisonment rate than England as of March 2020, with 163 per 100,000 imprisoned in Wales, and 139 per 100,000 imprisoned in England.

While the UK Government has announced steps to reduce prisoner numbers and ease overcrowding following the Covid-19 outbreak, the latest data show that HMP Swansea was the most overcrowded prison in England and Wales in March 2020.

Pointing out that a range of prison-related services such as healthcare and housing are devolved to the Welsh Government, the report’s author Dr Robert Jones has said that agencies and public services needed to respond quickly to meet the housing and service needs of released prisoners.

Dr Robert Jones said:

“The Covid-19 pandemic is the most urgent challenge that prison staff and health officials in Wales have ever faced.

“The latest prison population data underline the need for greater transparency over the response to Covid-19 in prisons in Wales. In anticipation of the welcome release of Welsh prisoners as part of the Ministry of Justice’ efforts to ease overcrowding, it remains to be seen what steps are being taken to help support prisoners safety back into their communities.

“The picture that has again been revealed of an overcrowded prisons estate, with an imprisonment rate that is anomalously high in western European terms, suggests that a comprehensive and properly-funded response is needed to ensure adequate housing, healthcare and support services for released prisoners.

“It is vital that UK and Welsh Governments mobilise the appropriate agencies and public services to ensure that released prisoners are able to rebuild their lives at a time when the society into which they are being released is facing unprecedented disruption.”