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Alex Wedlake, Cardiff West Socialist Party

England and Wales has the highest number of prisoners relative to population in western Europe – an accolade held for over two decades – with 148 prisoners per 100,000 in 2016.

Now, a new report using devolved data has found that Wales itself tops the leaderboard, with 154 prisoners per 100,000 compared to 141 in England.

Capitalist politicians in England and Wales see overcrowded prisons as a cash cow for privatisers and a threat to frighten the population. A socialist justice system would have rehabilitation and protection, not profit, as its goal.

The head researcher at the Wales Governance Centre rightly says the data should be considered in light of Wales being one of the poorest parts of Britain. No doubt figures will be similar for deindustrialised regions of England.

Poverty drives people to desperate acts. Only ending austerity, and mass investment in decent jobs for all, can start to overcome that.

Yet despite a lower crime rate, judges hand down custodial sentences in Wales at a much greater rate.

This shows the institutional bias of the capitalist courts against workers and the poor. Socialists call for the election of judges from the working class, not their appointment from among wealthy lawyers by unaccountable ruling-class figures.

And prison populations have long been at dangerous levels. All prisons in South Wales are now operating above their ‘certified normal accommodation’ – HM Prison Swansea is worst at 143%!


This causes huge problems for both staff and prisoners. Assaults on staff in prisons in Wales reached their highest levels in 2017, with more than one assault per day.

This rate is five times higher than in 2010. In England this number tripled during the same period.

Furthermore, prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in Wales increased by a staggering 156%, and 86% in England.

It is no coincidence that culling 7,000 prison officers in 2010 has had a direct impact on safety in prisons.

Cases of prisoner self-harm in Wales are increasing at a similar but still higher rate to England, where they are also increasing.

The Welsh prison population grew by 23% from 2010 to 2017 – and recorded self-harm incidents increased by 358%. Young offender institution HMP Parc topped the list at 91 incidents per 100 prisoners.

There are no women’s prisons in Wales. But because of this, women prisoners fall foul of further injustices. The average distance from home for women in prison across England and Wales is 64 miles – higher than for men.

But for Welsh women this figure is 101 miles! How are families to visit? Women prisoners across England and Wales are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety and depression or die by suicide. As a start, we need more staff to support these vulnerable women.

It is no surprise that thousands of prison officers walked out across England and Wales in November, led by prison and secure hospital union POA. Their action was over health and safety concerns – for members and inmates alike.