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Lifting the lid on the experiences of Welsh speaking prisoners

Prisoners often avoid using the Welsh language or requesting Welsh language services in the prison for fear of making their life more difficult. This is one of the findings of a new report published today by the Welsh Language Commissioner.
The basis of the 'Welsh language in prison' report is a series of interviews with prisoners, a review of relevant documentation and legislation, and evidence from organisations which provide prison services.
One of the prisoners interviewed said: "Using Welsh makes you different. I think that this is the reason why not everyone who can speak Welsh chooses to use the language. "
Another prisoner said: “I don’t think my life would be easy if I insisted on using Welsh; I don’t want to frustrate the officers and the authorities.”
There have been occasions when some prison staff interfered with the freedom of prisoners to speak Welsh with each other and with their families. One prisoner spoke of an occasion when his father was visiting, and when an officer asked them not to speak Welsh with each other. “I felt angry because other people can speak their own language so why not Welsh? I didn’t complain; who would listen? There is no point in complaining.”
There are more legal rights to use the Welsh language in prisons located in Wales than in England. The opening of CEM Berwyn has led to improving the Welsh language provision, but there are still a large number of instances where people from Wales are imprisoned in England. This is particularly true in the case of women, as there are no prisons for women in Wales.
The prison service has taken positive steps over the past few years. For example, CEM Berwyn has created opportunities for prisoners to use the language socially, and has strengthened monitoring arrangements. The situation is expected to improve further as more prisoners from north Wales will be located at CEM Berwyn.
In her report, the Welsh Language Commissioner makes a series of recommendations to enable prisoners to speak their own language and express themselves better, and to ensure that organisations respect the identity of Welsh-speaking prisoners.
The Welsh Language Commissioner, Meri Huws, said: "Language is not a matter of luxury, but a matter of justice. It’s about the fundamental rights of prisoners to communicate in their own language, or in the language they find it easiest to express themselves.
"I’m saddened by stories of prison officers interfering with prisoners' freedom to speak Welsh with each other and with their families; and it is important to make it clear that such situations are not acceptable.
"Throughout the process of preparing this report, my officers have been discussing the findings and recommendations officials at HMPPS - the organisation that oversees the prison service. I am confident they will use the findings and recommendations to take positive action to improve the experiences of Welsh speakers.”
Amy Rees, Executive Director of HMPPS in Wales, said: "I thank the Commissioner for producing a fair and comprehensive report. We accept the results and have already begun taking action to improve the experiences of Welsh speaking prisoners. As the report notes, meeting the language needs of prisoners is key to support rehabilitation and to reduce re-offending. I look forward to working with the Commissioner to improve our processes to achieve that aim."

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