THE number of people rough sleeping following release from prison has more than trebled in Wales, according to new figures.

Analysis of Ministry of Justice data shows 332 people managed by the Welsh probation services were sleeping on the streets in 2023, compared with 107 in 2022 – a rise of 210 per cent.

In England, the number of people rough sleeping upon release, and managed by English probation services, increased by 159 per cent.

The findings are from the Prisons in Wales report by the University of Cardiff’s Wales Governance Centre and is the latest publication focusing on the Welsh criminal justice system.

Further findings show Wales has a significantly higher “in country” imprisonment rate 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 figures, is based on the number of people held in prison within that country’s borders.

In Welsh prisons, when comparing the first six months of 2023 with the first six months of 2022, the number of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults increased by 80 per cent, with assaults on staff rising by 43 per cent, and self-harm incidents by 23 per cent.

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

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

“A lack of Wales-only justice data continues to present major obstacles to better understanding and improving the situation and demonstrates the agencies formally responsible for justice in Wales are still neglecting the chance to take Wales and the Welsh context seriously.

“Four years since we first uncovered that Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe, no attempt has been made to account for this rather startling finding.

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

“There are already major concerns that rising prisoner numbers will exacerbate the situation further.”

Despite an increase in the number of rough sleepers in Wales, the report notes a higher proportion (53 per cent) of those managed by Welsh probation services went into settled accommodation upon release in 2022/23, compared with those managed by probation services in England (48 per cent).

One in five (21 per cent) of all women sentenced to immediate custody at courts in Wales in 2022 were handed sentences of one month or less.

In 2022, there were 226 Welsh women in prison, compared with 218 Welsh female prisoners in 2021.

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

“With no women’s prison in Wales, it has been shown that custody can have enormously serious implications for women and their families.

“As detailed in the report, there are already widely held concerns that a planned residential women’s centre in Swansea will do little to alleviate that.

“Our analysis also shows that individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds continue to be over-represented amongst the Welsh prison and probation population.

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