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Rough sleeping ex-prisoners have more than trebled in Wales, new report shows

15 Nov 2023 7 minute read
The makeshift bed of a homeless person in Cardiff. Picture by Ben Salter (CC BY 2.0)

Martin Shipton

The number of people sleeping rough following release from prison has more than trebled in Wales, new figures from Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre show.

In its Prisons in Wales factfile, data from the Ministry of Justice show 332 people managed by the Welsh probation services were sleeping on the streets in 2023, compared to 107 in 2022. This is equivalent to a rise of 210%.

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

This report is the latest in a series of publications focusing on the Welsh criminal justice system, which began in 2018, drawing together information published by the Ministry of Justice, as well as previously unseen data which has been obtained from the Ministry of Justice via the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Further findings show that 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.

Wales far exceeds the level recorded in any other country in western Europe.


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%, with assaults on staff rising by 43%, and self-harm incidents by 23%.

Dr Robert Jones, the lead author of the Cardiff University report, said: “These latest findings present a depressing picture of the criminal justice system in Wales. As it recovers from the Covid19 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 a sharp increase in the number of rough sleepers in Wales, the report does note a higher proportion (53%) of those managed by Welsh probation services went into settled accommodation upon release in 2022/23, compared to those managed by probation services in England (48%).

Elsewhere in the report, for every 10,000 Black people living in Wales, 53 were in prison in 2022. This compares to a rate of 29 per 10,000 for individuals from a Mixed background, 20 for those from an Asian ethnic group, and 14 for White.

One in five (21%) 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.”

The report also includes Wales’s imprisonment rate based on an individual’s home address. The most recent rate for Wales, from 2022 figures, is 151 Welsh prisoners per 100,000 of the Welsh population. This is compared to a rate of 134 English prisoners per 100,000 of the population of England. Wales also has the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe on this measure.

The Ministry of Justice defines rough sleeping as: “The individual does not have any accommodation they are entitled to occupy, or they have accommodation they are entitled to occupy but they cannot be reasonably expected to occupy it for any reason. The individual sleeps in open air (such as on the streets, in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters or encampments) or in other places not designed for habitation (such as stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats or stations).”

White paper

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We recently launched our Ending Homelessness in Wales White Paper, which sets out a range of proposals which aim to prevent homelessness amongst prison leavers and to address the disproportionate impact of homelessness on this group, building on the already strong partnerships between local authorities and criminal justice agencies in Wales.

“We have already changed the law in Wales to ensure no-one is forced to sleep rough, enabling the continuation of our ‘no-one left out approach’ to homelessness.
“We have been clear in Wales that a different approach to justice is needed which is trauma-informed and based on the evidence of what works to prevent offending.

“Last year, we published Delivering Justice for Wales where we reaffirmed our commitment to pursuing the devolution of justice and set out our distinct vision for the future of justice in Wales.”

Stable housing

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The rise in the figures is a result of changes to the way we record this data.

“But we know stable housing helps ex-offenders stay on the straight and narrow which is why we’re investing millions to provide temporary accommodation for those at risk of becoming homeless on release – preventing them from falling back into a life of crime and keeping the public safe.”

The spokesperson added: “Since April 2021 we have been working on improving the quality of data entry. We have reduced the scope of what is known as ‘Homeless (not rough sleeping)’ so that it now only covers shelter/ emergency hostel/ campsite and squat. This has meant that the numbers recorded as rough sleeping have increased.

“In 2021/22 there were 314 homeless releases and 107 rough sleeping releases in Wales (9.5% of overall releases that year), while in 2022/23 the figures were 106 homeless and 332 rough sleeping (again 9.4% of overall releases that year).

“We are rolling out a scheme across England and Wales to provide basic, temporary accommodation to otherwise homeless prison leavers to help cut crime. It will support thousands of prison leavers each year, providing them with a base and time to find a permanent home as well as better access to healthcare and maintain a job.

“We are ending Friday releases following the Royal Assent of the Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill. It will mean thousands of prisoners vulnerable to addiction, mental health issues or homelessness will have more time to access critical support, such as finding a bed for the night, registering with a GP and signing up with the jobcentre, before services shut for the weekend.

“We have also launched a range of measures to get more ex-offenders into work so they can stay on the straight and narrow. This includes launching Employment Advisory Boards, which link prisons to leading business figures and have now been rolled out in 92 prisons to help improve the education and training on offer. We have also launched Prison Employment Hubs where offenders can get support with job applications.

“The proportion of prison leavers in employment six months after release has more than doubled in the two years to March 2023, from 14% to over 30%.”

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8 months ago

This is part of that “problem” that Suella’s “Final Solution” would have been aimed at. The entire homelessness problem requires a serious response not shuffling things around to no good effect. There are a wide range of challenges ranging from some who just need a safe home to others who will need a great deal of supportive remedies to address their underlying issues. I’m sure that part of the Trident budget or the budget for fixing palaces could be reallocated effectively for starters but it will need to be controlled by competent people rather than virtue signaling politicians or else… Read more »

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