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Wales tops imprisonment table

(Posted on 17/01/19)


A study by Cardiff University has shown Wales to have the highest rate of imprisonment in Western Europe: 148 inmates for every 100,000 of the population over the past 20 years. England was second with 141.

Conducting the first analysis of Ministry of Justice figures to separate the two countries, Dr Robert Jones of the Wales Governence Centre described the figures as worrying but did not speculate on the reasons behind the rate difference, despite identical sentencing guidelines and non-devolved justice.

“The findings pose a number of significant questions and raise many further difficult issues,” Dr Jones said. “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.”

Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader blamed the system:

“Just locking people up does not solve the problem,” Liz Saville Roberts pronounced. “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.”

It is accepted logic that the higher the rate of criminal conviction and custodial sentencing, the higher the rate of miscarriage of justice and wrongful conviction.

The study also reported the level of racial disproportionality in prison as higher in Wales than in England, with white people underrepresented.

“As we have said previously, the prison population is too high,” a Ministry of Justice spokesperson responded, “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.”

European figures are dwarfed by the US rate of 860 prisoners per 100,000 population (Bureau of Justice 2016 Statistics).