'Depressing picture' as number of prisoners sleeping rough on release trebles in Wales

More than 300 prisoners are sleeping on Welsh streets following their release. Credit: PA

The number of people sleeping rough after being released from prison has more than trebled in Wales in the past year, according to new data.

Rough sleeping amongst former prisoners increased by 210% compared to 2022, with 332 people managed by the Welsh probation services sleeping on the streets.

Cardiff University's Wales Governance Centre, which conducted the research, said the findings "present a depressing picture of the criminal justice system in Wales."

The increase is higher than in England, where there was a 159% rise in the number of people living on the streets after being released.

The increase in Wales is sharper than in England. Credit: PA

The research also found the number of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults rose by 80% in Wales in the first half of 2023, compared with the first six months of last year.

There was a 43% rise in the number of assaults on prison staff over the same period.

However, Cardiff University researchers found a higher proportion of people released from prison in Wales moved into settled accommodation compared with those in England.

Dr Robert Jones, lead author of the Prisons in Wales report, said the findings mark the "return of a persistent set of problems" as the prison system "recovers" from the pandemic.

He added: “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 indicates a return to the problems that reached record levels prior to the pandemic."

Dr Jones said rising prisoner numbers will "exacerbate the situation further."

Assaults on Welsh prison officers increased by 80% in the first half of this year compared to the first six months of 2023. Credit: PA

The research also found slightly more than one in five women sent to prison by courts in Wales in 2022 were handed a sentence of one month or less.

There was also a slight rise in the number of female prisoners sentenced by Welsh courts last year. The figure stood at 226, compared with 218 in 2021.

There are no female prisons in Wales. Dr Jones said women having to go to prisons in England instead "can have enormously serious implications" for them and their family.

He also said the rise in female prisoners comes "despite repeated commitments to reduce the number of Welsh women in prison by both the Welsh and UK Governments," with rates increasing "steadily" in recent years.

He added: “Our analysis also shows that individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds continue to be over-represented amongst the Welsh prison and probation population."

Dr Jones said: “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.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “The rise in the figures is a result of changes to the way we record this data.

“But we know stable housing helps ex-offenders stay on the straight and narrow which is why we’re investing millions to provide temporary accommodation for those at risk of becoming homeless on release – preventing them from falling back into a life of crime and keeping the public safe.”

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