Record Welsh Prison Crisis Demands Clean Break From the Past

May 11, 2007 11:24 AM

As the new Ministry of Justice is unveiled, the Welsh Liberal Democrats called for a clean break from the Home Office's reactionary and populist approach to crime in the past.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats pointed out that under New Labour, the prison crisis in Wales had reached new record levels:

• The Welsh prison population is at a new record high of 2,718. This is 42% over the capacity of prisons in Wales - an increase of almost 800 since 2000.

• Violence in Welsh prisons has more than doubled since 2000, especially prisoner on prisoner violence.

• Staff to prisoner ratios have decreased since 2000; the two largest public prisons in Wales have 16 prisoners to every 10 staff, up from 13 prisoners for every 10 staff in 2000.

• 68% of prisoners recommit a crime within 2 years of leaving jail.

Recent research shows the scale of the challenge to tackle the serious social and psychological problems affecting the prison population and to cut their reoffending levels. Of the 2,718 prisoners currently in Welsh prisons:

• At least 1,900 are likely to suffer from one or more mental disorders and 190 are likely to have a psychotic disorder.

• Approximately 1,750 are likely to have a serious drug problem with around 650 having used crack cocaine or heroin within the year before imprisonment.

• Almost 1,000 are likely to have an alcohol problem and around 700 are likely to have lived in Local Authority care whilst growing up.

• Around 1,400 have no qualifications at all, 1,800 will have been unemployed at the time of imprisonment and over 1,000 have severe literacy problems.

"The prison population in Wales has hit record levels. New figures this month show that yet again the prison population in Wales has risen. Under the reactionary and populist gimmicks of this Government, our prisons have gone from full to bursting at the seams.

"It is impossible to see how prisoners can get the attention they need to combat the problems that the vast majority suffer from, such as illiteracy, mental disorders and substance addiction. The reality is that people who commit a crime are far more likely to re-offend if they still suffer from these problems when they emerge from prison. A number of recent reports highlight the extent of these problems in the prison population.

"Of the 2,718 prisoners in Welsh prisons today, around 1,800 will recommit a crime within 2 years of being released. We are accelerating down a path where a prison sentence equates to a sentence of a life of crime.

"The new Ministry of Justice must mark a clean break from this past. We must change the direction of the judicial system, and the thinking behind prison and punishment, to ensure that we tackle the underlying problems rather than simply locking up more people. Even with more prison places, without tackling the underlying causes of crime, we are creating more problems for society in the long term.

"We must spend far more energy and resources on cutting re-offending by getting prisoners off drugs and alcohol, treating them for depression and mental health problems and giving them the skills to get jobs.

"The Government needs to invest in tough community punishments for non-violent prisoners where this offers the best and safest chance for them to build a new life for themselves without crime. And successful projects, like the Mentoring Scheme at Parc prison and Detoxification unit at Cardiff prison should be expanded and spread across Wales."

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