Number of Welsh prisoners sleeping rough on release more than trebles in one year
15 November 2023
The number of people rough sleeping following release from prison has more than trebled in Wales, new figures from Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre show.
In its Prisons in Wales factfile, data from the Ministry of Justice show 332 people managed by the Welsh probation services were sleeping on the streets in 2023, compared to 107 in 2022. This is equivalent to a rise of 210%.
In England, the number of people rough sleeping upon release, and managed by English probation services, increased by 159%.
This report is the latest in a line of publications focusing on the Welsh criminal justice system, which began in 2018, drawing together information published by the Ministry of Justice, as well as previously unseen data which has been obtained from the Ministry of Justice via the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Further findings show that Wales has a significantly higher “in country” imprisonment rate than other parts of the UK at 177 per 100,000 of the population. This is followed by England (146), Scotland (146) and Northern Ireland (100).This calculation, taken from 2023 figures, is based on the number of people held in prison within that country’s borders.*
Wales far exceeds the level recorded in any other country in western Europe.
In Welsh prisons, when comparing the first six months of 2023 with the first six months of 2022, the number of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults increased by 80%, with assaults on staff rising by 43%, and self-harm incidents by 23%.
Lead author Dr Robert Jones said: “These latest findings present a depressing picture of the criminal justice system in Wales. As it recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, we see the continuation and return of a persistent set of problems. A lack of Wales-only justice data continues to present major obstacles to better understanding and improving the situation and demonstrates the agencies formally responsible for justice in Wales are still neglecting the chance to take Wales and the Welsh context seriously.
“Four years since we first uncovered that Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe, no attempt has been made to account for this rather startling finding. We are seeing an increasing number of people leaving prison as rough sleepers and while there were signs of some improvements in safety levels across Wales, the latest data for 2023 indicate a return to the problems that reached record levels prior to the pandemic. There are already major concerns that rising prisoner numbers will exacerbate the situation further.”
Despite a sharp increase in the number of rough sleepers in Wales, the report does note a higher proportion (53%) of those managed by Welsh probation services went into settled accommodation upon release in 2022/23, compared to those managed by probation services in England (48%).
Elsewhere in the report, for every 10,000 Black people living in Wales, 53 were in prison in 2022. This compares to a rate of 29 per 10,000 for individuals from a Mixed background, 20 for those from an Asian ethnic group, and 14 for White.
One in five (21 per cent) of all women sentenced to immediate custody at courts in Wales in 2022 were handed sentences of one month or less. In 2022, there were 226 Welsh women in prison, compared with 218 Welsh female prisoners in 2021.
Dr Jones added: “Despite repeated commitments to reduce the number of Welsh women in prison by both the Welsh and UK governments, rates have steadily increased in the past couple of years. With no women’s prison in Wales, it has been shown that custody can have enormously serious implications for women and their families. As detailed in the report, there are already widely held concerns that a planned residential women’s centre in Swansea will do little to alleviate that.
“Our analysis also shows that individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds continue to be over-represented amongst the Welsh prison and probation population. Taken together, these findings should remind government officials of the urgent need for drastic changes in the future direction of sentencing and penal policy in Wales.”
* The report also includes Wales’s imprisonment rate based on an individual’s home address. The most recent rate for Wales, from 2022 figures, is 151 Welsh prisoners per 100,000 of the Welsh population. This is compared to a rate of 134 English prisoners per 100,000 of the population of England. Wales also has the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe on this measure.