A Senedd Member has said that HMP Berwyn “failing Welsh speakers” after the prisoner Governor said that he did not know how many staff spoke Welsh.
HMP Berwyn was criticised by the Independent Monitoring Board in September for failing to cater for Welsh-language prisoners and denying them certain rights, a claim HM’s Prison Service denied.
There have also been recent accusations from inside the prison that prisoners have been segregated for speaking Welsh in HMP Berwyn.
Llyr Gruffydd MS said he was concerned that, six months on from the report, the Governor had admitted he still didn’t know how many staff can speak Welsh and therefore could not provide a bilingual service to them.
He said that the admission came in a letter he was writing on behalf of a constituent who said he was segregated and threatened with a loss of privileges for speaking Welsh.
“The IMB report was a wake-up call to authorities at the prison, which has had its share of problems in terms of drugs, violence and poor staff morale,” he said.
“I wrote to the prison Governor because of the ongoing concerns that were raised last week about prisoners facing segregation and disciplinary action for speaking Welsh.
“It is clear that some work has been done over the past six months to improve the situation and that’s very welcome, but this still feels like too little, too late given the promises made when HMP Berwyn was being established.”
Llyr Gruffydd said that the prison, the UK’s largest, was initially it was sold to people in north Wales as a prison that would meet local demand.
“This mutated into a super prison – with 2200 inmates making it the largest in the UK and the second largest in Europe – and we have seen many prisoners from the North continue to be incarcerated in English jails,” he said.
“One key argument, given for its location in north Wales, was that it would meet the needs of a bilingual population. Four years on and we’re having to remind the authorities that they aren’t doing their job properly.”
Mr Gruffydd said this failure was a reminder that criminal justice and prisons were not devolved matters in Wales, unlike Scotland: “Unfortunately, prisons and criminal justice are not matters devolved to Wales. As a result, I have raised the matter with Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru’s Westminster spokesperson on home affairs.
“I have also contacted Eluned Morgan, the minister with responsibility for the Welsh language, to ensure that she intervenes to ensure that Welsh-speaking prisoners are not penalised for their use of the language.
“This is not the prison we need in North Wales. The intention and initial promise was to create a prison that would be bilingual and provide a service to the community by preparing prisoners for reintegration into the community.
“The fact that only 66 men out of the 1300+ inmates currently housed there can speak Welsh speaks volumes – this is not a local prison but a jail that is catering for a much wider catchment area, making it far more difficult to reintegrate offenders into the community.”
A spokesperson for HM Prison Service responded to the original Independent Monitoring Board report by saying it was “completely untrue”.