MPs Call For More Jails In Wales
More prisons must be built in Wales to combat overcrowding and to enable prisoners to be held closer to home, a new inquiry by MPs has concluded. The report, published on Wednesday by the Welsh Affairs Committee, also highlighted the lack of custodial facilities in north and mid Wales.
The inquiry responded to concerns about the imprisonment of nearly half of Welsh prisoners outside Wales. The prison service said decisions on new prisons would be based on need.
The Home Office said it has created 20,000 prison places since 1997 and planned to create another 8,000 over the next five years – including building two new prisons in Merseyside and in London.
There are currently five prisons in Wales – Cardiff, Swansea, Parc in Bridgend, Usk and Prescoed in Pontypool – all of which are in south Wales. The last available figures from the prison service showed there were 2,681 people locked up in Wales in April this year. The system has an operational capacity of 2,724.
The committee called for new prison facilities to be built in north Wales to accommodate up to 500 male prisoners in low and medium-security categories. They also want extra prison places in south Wales. The inquiry found that the work of rehabilitation agencies was often hampered by the difficulty of keeping regular contact with Welsh prisoners held a long way from their homes.
The 11 MPs who make up the Welsh Affairs Committee also called for more facilities for younger prisoners to be provided within Wales and recommended a new approach be taken to the managing of female offenders, including community-based custodial centres.
They also criticised the provision of Welsh-language materials in some prisons and said there was a need to address the high levels of mental ill-health amongst Wales’ prison population. Committee chairman, Dr Hywel Francis MP, said no area of Wales
had adequate prison facilities and called on the Home Office to take “urgent” action.
Wales’ most senior judge Sir Roderick Evans called for more prison places in Wales in 2006 and said many Welsh families often had to travel long distances to visit relatives in jail. The judge told a Law Society event that a lack of visiting endangered family contact – vital for prisoners’ reintegration into society.
But Frances Crook from the Howard League for Penal Reform called for more community rather than custodial sentences, to minimise the need for prison places.
She said MPs were stuck in a “Victorian timewarp,” adding that the Welsh Assembly Government should be given powers over criminal justice “so that they can take the bold steps required to provide robust and innovative community sentences in Wales.”
Justice Minister David Hanson welcomed the MPs’ report and said site searches were under way in Wales. He said decisions on the location and function of the new prisons will be determined by greatest need. He added: “We will continue to do what we can to ensure closeness to home for Welsh prisoners in the English prison estate, but pressure on the estate as a whole remains high. “We actively encourage visits by prisoners’ families and assist those with the lowest income.”