The number of people sleeping rough after release from Welsh prisons has trebled in just one year according to new research by Cardiff University. The Wales Governance Centre’s latest report shows that over 330 people are currently sleeping rough while under probation services, compared to 107 in 2022.
The report also shows that Wales has the highest rate of ‘in country’ imprisonment levels compared to any other country in western Europe, with 177 prisoners per 100,000 of the population. This compares with 146 for England and Scotland, respectively, and 100 for Northern Ireland. The in country figure has been higher in Wales every year since 2019.
Black people in Wales were the most over-represented ethnic group in prison with 53 Black people per 10,000. This compared with only 14 per 10,000 for white people, who were the only ethnic group under-represented in prison. Since 2010, the average custodial sentence length for Black defendants (25.4 months) has been 8.5 months higher than for white defendants (16.9 months).
The Justice Gap has previously reported that over a half of women given prison sentences serve less than six months. The WGC report highlights that 1 in 5 (21%) women who were sentenced to immediate custody in Wales received a sentence of one month or less. There were 226 Welsh women in prison in 2022 compared with 218 in 2021.
Dr Robert Jones, the report’s author, concluded that ‘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 Ministry of Justice, quoted by Nation.cymru, explained that changes to how data is recorded has led to an increase in the homelessness figures. A Ministry of Justice spokesperson highlighted that they were bringing an end to Friday releases to allow time for released offenders to find accommodation and support.
They also said: ‘We are rolling out a scheme across England and Wales to provide basic, temporary accommodation to otherwise homeless prison leavers to help cut crime. It will support thousands of prison leavers each year, providing them with a base and time to find a permanent home as well as better access to healthcare and maintain a job.’
Welsh Government spokesperson highlighted their commitment to ending homelessness in Wales through launching their Ending Homelessness in Wales White Paper which sets proposals ‘which aim to prevent homelessness amongst prison leavers and to address the disproportionate impact of homelessness on this group, building on the already strong partnerships between local authorities and criminal justice agencies in Wales.’