Westminster’s prison regime is “unfit for purpose”, according to Plaid Cymru’s Justice spokesperson, Liz Saville Roberts.
The Plaid Cymru MP has called for the “principles of reprimand and revenge” to be tempered by the “ethics of “rehabilitation and repair”, as prison population soars, and self-harm and suicide rates amongst prisoners reach unprecedented levels.
Four inmates took their own lives within a week of arriving at HMP Swansea in the last four years and extreme overcrowding, harsh budget cuts and severe staff shortages has led, in some cases, to inmates being locked in their cells for 23-hours a day.
Conditions in some prisons have been described by the Chief Inspector of Prisons as “squalid, dirty and disgraceful”.
Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate this morning on mental health in prisons, Liz Saville Roberts, said that subjecting inmates to inhumane conditions obstructs attempts at rehabilitation and exacerbates mental health problems, from which many prisoners suffer.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union are proposing an ‘Alternative Vision for Prisons’, calling for prisons to be “a place of genuine reform where people are treated in a way as to generate mutual respect and genuine rehabilitation”.
Ms Saville Roberts also called for prisoners whose native language is Welsh to be allowed to access services in their native tongue, arguing that denying inmates their language rights heightens feelings of isolation and segregation.
Plaid Cymru believes criminal justice should be devolved to Wales, mirroring the situation in Scotland, enabling the Welsh Government to ensure the criminal justice system can adequately reflect the unique needs of Wales.
Speaking in the debate, Plaid Cymru’s Justice spokesperson, Liz Saville Roberts MP, said:
“Civilised society with a functioning criminal justice system cannot tolerate the present levels of self-harm and suicide among inmates. This, and the doubling of the prison population over the last 30 years, is symptomatic that Westminster’s prison regime is fundamentally unfit for purpose.
“Our penal system needs reform. The outdated principles of reprimand and revenge must be tempered by the ethics of rehabilitation and repair.
“Extreme overcrowding, harsh budget cuts and severe staff shortages mean it is becoming increasingly common for inmates to be locked in their cells for 23-hours a day - cells, like those at HMP Liverpool, that were described by the Chief Inspector of Prisons as “squalid, dirty and disgraceful”.
“Subjecting anyone, regardless of their offences, to inhumane conditions clearly obstructs any attempts of rehabilitation, and can only exacerbate the mental health problems from which so many prisoners suffer.
“If we are to make prisons a place of genuine reform, with the principles of rehabilitation and repair at their centre, we have to create environments in which inmates can feel comfortable, and provide adequate mental healthcare, to facilitate that repair.
“One very important example of this is the provision of services in Welsh for Welsh-speakers. For many people in Wales, Welsh is language in which they conduct their lives. Being sent to prison, for whatever transgressions, must still mean that people are able to access public services in Welsh.
“Denying an offender such language rights only heightens feelings of isolation and segregation, which already afflicts so many inmates.
“By failing to act on the horrifying numbers of self-harm and suicides in prisons, we are to all effects and purposes condoning haphazard and extrajudicial capital punishment."