Wales: End persecution of Welsh language speakers at HMP Berwyn

Image shows a prison fence

Via Prisoner Solidarity Network

Undod and Prisoner Solidarity Network are campaigning together to stop the persecution of Welsh language speakers at HMP Berwyn.

Prisoner Solidarity Network has been made aware of the ongoing harassment and separation of first language Welsh speakers by staff at HMP Berwyn in North Wales. The issue received widespread media attention last year after an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) report outlined discrimination against native Welsh speakers inside the prison. The IMB, and subsequent accounts, have reported that Welsh language speakers have been threatened with sanctions by English speaking guards, denied access to interpreters at disciplinary panels, and been fired from jobs within the prison for speaking Welsh. Despite official criticisms by the IMB, Welsh Affairs Committee and Welsh Language Commissioner, we continue to receive grievances from inside and are looking to apply pressure on the administration at Berwyn.

Approximately 866,600 people in Wales speak Welsh, many as a first language. Despite legislation mandating the equality of the English and Welsh languages within the Welsh prison estate, Welsh language speakers have been subject to longstanding discrimination, both within HMP Berwyn and the broader estate. The denial of language rights, it should be said, is far from the only problem at Berwyn. The prison was opened in 2017, allegedly as a flagship model for a new rehabilitative approach to imprisonment. Within less than two years however former governor Russ Trent was suspended following undisclosed allegations and several former staff members have since been prosecuted and imprisoned for their behaviour at work. Conditions have deteriorated further since Trent’s replacement by Nick Leader, a figure exposed in 2011 for manipulating prison transfers to evade scrutiny during inspections, leading to the death by suicide of Christopher Wardally in 2009. Since Leader’s appointment, Berwyn has experienced the highest growth rates of violence and self-harm in the Welsh prison estate.

If the Berwyn remains incapable of retaining its Welsh-speaking staff, that’s not the prisoners’ problem. They must be permitted to speak their own language, whether the staff can understand them or not.

We’re demanding that the threats, separation and sanctions of Welsh-speaking prisoners at HMP Berwyn, and across the whole prison estate, stops. In particular, we demand:

  • An end to the threats and punishment of Welsh speakers

  • An end to the isolation and separation of Welsh speakers

  • An end to the delays in access to Welsh language letters

  • Access to Welsh-language media for Welsh speakers