Call for control of HMP Berwyn to be handed to Cardiff from Westminster after new report
A report into the state of Welsh prisons revealed HMP Berwyn recorded the highest number of Covid-19 infections of any jail in England and Wales.
The study by the Wales Governance Centre also revealed a litany of drug and discipline problems at the Wrexham detention facility, with figures for hostage taking, weapon finds, serious disturbances, drug smuggling and violence all spiralling.
The Ministry of Justice said “tough new security measures are making it harder than ever to bring drugs into jails”.
It also said it was “factually accurate” to say Welsh prisons had more Covid infections but claimed “significantly varying testing criteria between England and Wales” had masked how “infection rates were similar”.
Forty-one inmates contracted the coronavirus strain at HMP Berwyn along with 33 staff to the end of June – the latest figures available – which was more than any other jail in the UK Government’s estate. The report notes “There had been more confirmed cases of Covid-19 at HMP Berwyn that at any other prison in England and Wales as of 19th June. HMP Berwyn had the second largest prison population in England and Wales at the end of June 2020”
One inmate died due to the infection.
The report prompted Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts to call on Westminster to hand over control of justice to the Welsh Government.
She called the prison’s size a “recipe for disaster”.
She added: “This is an institutional problem, created by the Westminster Government’s decision to build a super-prison in the first place, which
Plaid Cymru warned from the outset would lead to negative outcomes for prisoners and staff.
“This coupled with decades of underinvestment in the wider criminal justice system and the fact the majority of those being sent to the north of Wales prison are not from the area, has clearly led to serious and currently worsening issues.
“These statistics only serve to underline that Westminster should not be running the Welsh justice system.”
The number of English inmates within Welsh jails has increased by 182% to 1,774 since HMP Berwyn opened in February 2017.
Seventy percent of prisoners at HMP Berwyn were from addresses outside Wales as of the end of December 2019.
The facility is the only one of Wales’ five prisons that isn’t overcrowded, and is currently running at 91% of its 2,100 capacity.
Prison inspectors raised concerns in March last year over its failure to analyse or investigate violent incidents, with “no robust strategy” in place to “drive and monitor plans to reduce violence and improve prison safety”.
The report detailed a litany of problems at the prison, including:
- Five prison staff at HMP Berwyn were subject to either investigations or conduct and discipline for charge of “Assault/Unnecessary use of force” on a prisoner in 2018/19
- Self harm incidents rose by 84% in 2019, to 1,015 – a rate of 71 per 100
- Prisoner-on-prisoner assaults rose by 143% in 2019, to 39 per 100 inmates – the highest in Wales
- More assaults were recorded on prison staff at HMP Berwyn in 2019 (257) than the other four Welsh jails combined (240)
- In 2019-20 there were 16 complaints about staff to the Prison Ombudsman, nine of them from HMP Berwyn inmates
- Of 162 complaints to the Ombudsman from prisoners in Wales in 2019-20 49% came from HMP Berwyn
- Prison disturbances in Welsh jails increased by 26% in 2019-20, largely because such incidents at HMP Berwyn almost doubled to 13
- In 2018-19 HMP Berwyn accounted for 11 of the 14 hostage incidents recorded in Wales
- Drug finds at HMP Berwyn increased by 92% in the year ending March 2020 -rising to 323 compared to 46 in 2018
- 19% of prisoners surveyed said they developed a drug problem while locked up at at HMP Berwyn
- Alcohol finds at HMP Berwyn rose by 225% in the year to March 2020 – at a rate of 26 per 100 prisoners, the highest in Wales
- Weapon finds increased by 141% at HMP Berwyn in the year ending March 2020 – on average, there were five weapon discoveries a week. It also had the highest ratio in Wales with 18 per 100 prisoners
The Ministry of Justice was asked about discipline within £250m HMP Berwyn, vaunted as a state-of-the-art, secure facility.
A spokeswoman said: “Tough new security measures are making it harder than ever to bring drugs into jails and this is one of the reasons assaults (overall in English and Welsh prisons) have fallen 8% in the past year.”
She added: “Health experts have praised the efforts of staff who have successfully restricted the spread of the virus in jails and saved many lives.
“The situation at Welsh prisons was closely monitored through outbreak control team meetings which took place weekly to discuss the management of Covid-19.
“This includes representatives from Public Health Wales and local health boards.”
Public Health Wales has been asked for comment on the infection rates at HMP Berwyn.
By Jez Hemming – BBC Local Democracy Reporter
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