Number of Welsh prisoners sleeping rough on release more than triples in a year

The number of people sleeping rough after being released from prison has more than tripled in Wales, new figures have revealed.

Analysis of Ministry of Justice data shows that 332 people managed by Welsh probation services were sleeping rough in 2023, compared to 107 in 2022 – a 210% increase.

In England, the number of rough sleepers managed by England's probation services rose by 159% after being released from prison.

The findings come from the Prisons in Wales report by Cardiff University's Center for Welsh Governance and is the latest publication to focus on Wales' criminal justice system.

Further findings show that Wales has a significantly higher rate of ‘in-country' imprisonment than other parts of the UK at 177 per 100,000 of the population.

This is followed by England (146), Scotland (146) and Northern Ireland (100).

This calculation, taken from 2023 data, is based on the number of people held in prisons within that country's borders.

In prisons in Wales, when comparing the first half of 2023 with the first half of 2022, the number of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults increased by 80%, with assaults on staff increasing by 43% and incidents of self-harm by 23%.

Lead author Dr Robert Jones said: “These latest findings paint a depressing picture of the criminal justice system in Wales.

“As it recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, we are seeing the continuation and return of a persistent set of problems.

“The lack of justice data for Wales alone continues to be a significant barrier to better understanding and improving the situation and shows that the officially responsible agencies for justice in Wales are still missing the opportunity to take Wales and the Welsh context seriously.

“Four years since we first revealed that Wales has the highest rate of imprisonment in western Europe, no attempt has been made to explain this rather surprising finding.

“We are seeing an increasing number of people leaving prison as rough sleepers and while there were signs of improvements in safety levels across Wales, the latest figures for 2023 show a return to record levels of problems before the pandemic.

“There are already major concerns that increasing the number of prisoners will further worsen the situation.”

Despite an increase in the number of rough sleepers in Wales, the report notes that a greater proportion (53%) of those managed by Welsh probation services went into residential accommodation on release in 2022/23, compared to those managed by surveillance services in England. 48%).

One in five (21%) of all women sentenced to immediate custody in Welsh courts in 2022 were given sentences of one month or less.

In 2022, there were 226 Welsh women in prison, compared to 218 Welsh women in prison in 2021.

These findings should remind government officials of the urgent need for drastic changes in the future direction of sentencing and criminal policy in Wales

The main author of the report Dr. Robert Jones

Dr Jones added: “Despite repeated pledges to reduce the number of women in prison by both the Welsh and UK Governments, rates have risen steadily over the past two years.

“With no women's prison in Wales, it has been shown that detention can have extremely serious consequences for women and their families.

“As detailed in the report, there are already widespread concerns that a planned women's residential center in Swansea will do little to alleviate this.

“Our analysis also shows that people from minority ethnic backgrounds are still over-represented among Wales' prison and custody population.

“Combined, these findings should remind government officials of the urgent need for drastic changes in the future direction of sentencing and criminal policy in Wales.”