Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe, according to new research published this week showing significant disparities between the use of custody between England and Wales. According to what claims to be the first detailed analysis of sentencing and immediate custody in Wales, in 2017, there were 154 Welsh prisoners per 100,000 of the Welsh population which compared 141 English prisoners per 100,000 of the population of England.
It is a finding that the report by Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre (Sentencing and Immediate Custody in Wales: A Factfile) that is ‘cause for major concern’ and one that has emerged ‘without detection’. The study revealed that while the total number of custodial sentences handed out by courts in England fell by 16% between 2010 and 2017, the number increased marginally at courts in Wales by 0.3% during the same period. This is despite the fact that police recorded crime in Wales was lower than England every year between 2013 and 2017.
‘It is well-established that England and Wales has the highest imprisonment rates in Western Europe,’ said Dr Robert Jones of the Wales Governance Centre. ‘But this report, for the very first time, singles Wales out within that jurisdiction. It shows that Wales in fact has a higher rate of imprisonment than England.’
‘The discovery that Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe is a cause of major concern, equally disturbing is that such an alarming trend has emerged in Wales without detection. This undoubtedly calls into question the role being played by UK justice agencies in Wales as well as civil society organisations and academic researchers.’
Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre
The study threw up a number of significant disparities between England Wales. A greater proportion of short-term custodial sentences were handed out in Wales than in England between 2010 and 2017: 68% of all custodial sentences in Wales were for less than 12 months compared to 64% in England. More than three quarters (79%) of all women sentenced to immediate custody in Wales between 2010 and 2017 were handed sentences of less than 12 months. This is compared to 67% of male offenders sentenced in Wales. One in four (25%) women handed an immediate custodial sentence in Wales were sentenced to one month or less in prison between 2010 and 2017.
In 2017, the average custodial sentence length for all offences in England was 17.2 months whereas the average length in Wales was 13.4 months. A higher percentage of sentences of four years or more were handed out in England (8.9%) than in Wales (6.2%) between 2010 and 2017.
White offenders sentenced to immediate custody in Wales had the lowest average custodial sentence length in 2017 (13 months), compared to black offenders who recorded the highest average sentence length (22 months), followed by Asian (19 months) and mixed race (178 months).
‘A thorough debate is needed on why these kinds of sentencing and custodial patterns occur in Wales and whether these are the outcomes that the UK and Welsh Governments want to see from the criminal justice system,’ said Dr Jones.