19:02, January 15 127 0 theguardian.com

2019-01-15 19:02:09
Wales has highest incarceration rate in western Europe – study

Wales has the highest rate of imprisonment in western Europe, the first study of its kind has revealed.

Sentencing and Immediate Custody in Wales: A Factfile found that in 2017 (the latest figures available) there were 154 prisoners per 100,000 of the population of Wales, compared with 141 per 100,000 of England.

Campaigners and academics expressed concern following the findings. Plaid Cymru said they showed the penal system was failing and that they added weight to the argument that criminal justice in Wales should be devolved to Cardiff.

prison pop of wales compared with england

It is widely accepted that England and Wales jointly have the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe but this is the first time the figures for each country, which share a legal system, have been analysed separately.

The research was carried out by Dr Robert Jones at Cardiff University’s Wales governance centre. He said the figures were worrying but any suggestion that judges and magistrates in Wales were inherently harsher than those in England could not be determined until full sentencing data was further broken down.

Jones said: “The findings pose a number of significant questions and raise many further difficult issues. Wider research is needed to try to explain Wales’ high rate of imprisonment. While this will undoubtedly include further analysis of sentencing outcomes including the use of community sentences, fines and suspended sentences, attention should also be drawn to the significance of wider socioeconomic factors in Wales.

“In particular, the data should be considered in light of Wales’ status as one of the poorest parts of the UK. Previous research has identified the symbiosis between poverty, marginalisation and imprisonment.”

Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, said the figures showed the prison system was not fit for purpose.

“Just locking people up does not solve the problem,” she said. “We need a genuinely rehabilitative prison system to break the vicious reoffending cycle that many inmates fall into. For the safety of prison staff, inmates and society as a whole we need to make rehabilitation our number one priority.

“Wales being at the top of this league table is a source of great shame. Our national assembly for Wales should take control of our prison system so we can create one fit for the unique needs of our nation and not simply allow Westminster to impose its unsuitable policies.”

The study, which was published on Wednesday, used the home addresses of offenders to differentiate between Wales and England. It found a higher proportion of Wales’s overall population was in prison than England’s for every year since 2013, when data became available.

Custodial sentences Wales and England comparison

This trend was supported by the “in country” rate of imprisonment. In November 2018, the rate in Wales was at 148 per 100,000, compared with 141 per 100,000 in England. The Welsh rate is expected to increase once HMP Berwyn in Wrexham becomes fully operational.

The study also showed that while the total number of custodial sentences handed down by courts in England fell by 16% between 2010 and 2017, it increased marginally (0.3%) in Wales. This was despite police recorded crime in Wales being lower than in England every year between 2013 and 2017, the report said.

In addition, the report said white Welsh and English people were underrepresented in prison in 2017, with the level of racial disproportionality higher among the Welsh prison population than the English one.

England and Wales has recorded the highest prison population rate in western Europe since 1999. Between then and 2018, the average prison population rate per 100,000 people in England and Wales was 141. In Scotland it was 135 per 100,000,Northern Ireland 78, Germany 89 and France 92.

The UK government pointed out that sentencing guidelines were the same for England and Wales and independent judges made decisions based on the facts of each case.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “As we have said previously, the prison population is too high and we are exploring potential alternatives to custody – such as reducing the number of ineffective short sentences which provide little opportunity to rehabilitate offenders and fail to tackle reoffending. We are clear that prison will continue to be the best place for serious offenders.”