HMP Berwyn, which opened in February, will be the largest prison in Europe when full. But Plaid Cymru’s regional AM is critical that the vast majority of prisoners from north Wales are still going to prisons across the border. Fewer than 10% of the inmates in Berwyn are currently from Wales.
Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru AM for North Wales, said, “HMP Berwyn was sold as a prison for North Wales. The statistics show that this is not the case.
“The vast majority of prisoners in HMP Berwyn to date are from England, just 10% are from north Wales. This is despite the fact that in June there were 228 men from north Wales being sent to HMP Altcourse. At the same time there were fewer than 40 in HMP Berwyn.
“Even prisoners from Wrexham are far more likely to end up in Altcourse than in Berwyn by a factor of 10-1. In March there were 58 Wrexham men in Altcourse and under five in Berwyn.
“I accept that the prison is still not at capacity but are the ratios likely to remain the same? If so, then Berwyn has been built to cope with overcrowding in English prisons rather than meet local needs.
“In addition, the failure to provide for young offenders and women means that both these categories are still being sent over the border. There are 200 young offenders from Wales in Stoke Heath and there is still no women’s prison in Wales. This could and should have been a part of the plan for Berwyn but the UK Government ignored Welsh needs once again.
“Prison is not meant to be easy but punishing families with extra distances to travel and maintain contact isn’t fair. Rehabilitation and resettlement is meant to play a large part in ensuring prisoners do not re-offend. How does the Ministry of Justice explain that when prisoners from both England and Wales are being sent in different directions?”
Mr Gruffydd will be raising these concerns during a debate called today (Wednesday) by Plaid Cymru on the proposal for another new prison in Wales, this time in the Port Talbot area. He added, “If this is allowed to happen it will mean that Wales will be importing prisoners and still have no facilities for women and youth offenders here in the north.”
His comments were echoed by prison reformers.
Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said, “These figures underline the fact that Berwyn was never built to cater for the needs of Wales in mind. A prison of this size – which will eventually hold around 2,000 prisoners – was built in response to the overcrowding crisis in English prisons.
“There is plentiful of evidence that the closer to home someone is jailed, the easier it is to maintain family contacts and return to the community safely at the end of a sentence. We would hope that wherever possible Welsh prisoners are imprisoned in Wales but the pressures of overcrowding in the system as a whole mean that prisoners are often placed where there is a space rather than in the prison that would suit them best.
“The government should take bold action to reduce prison numbers and ease pressure on the system rather than continue the failed policy of building more and more prisons, only to fill them as quickly as they are built.”