More local "community" prisons should be built to help prisoners cope with depression and suicide risks, according to former chief prisons inspector Sir David Ramsbotham.
Welsh women prisoners have a high risk of self harm
And, the Prison Reform Trust says the picture is particularly grim for women in Wales, as there are no facilities here for holding them which means they are often placed in jails hundreds of miles from their families.
Sir David said prisoners, both women and men, held in custody near their families would get the family support they needed and would be less likely to re-offend.
Without this Enver Solomon, a spokesman for the Prison Reform Trust said women can "withdraw into themselves and sink into depression".
"In the worst scenario it leads to cases of self harm and even suicide," he added.
In the first six month of 2003, 10 female inmates in England jails killed themselves and there were nearly 3,000 cases of self harm among women.
In fact, the Prison Reform Trust said that women inmates were nearly 18 times more likely to harm themselves than male prisoners.
Sir David, who stepped down from the prisons watchdog post after six years in August 2001, was addressing the annual conference of the British Urban Regeneration Association (BURA) in Cardiff on Wednesday.
"We need to tackle the causes of crime and also ensure that prison is a real chance for people to rehabilitate," he added.
Sir David Ramsbotham: "Local prisons will cut crime."
"I believe this can only be done with the introduction of local 'community' prisons, ensuring that criminals do not lose contact with their roots."
Also on Wednesday, the Prison Reform Trust, published a report which said prisoners were denied opportunities for education and training in jails in England and Wales. Inmates of Parc Prison, at Bridgend, contributed toward the survey.
Entitled Time to Learn, to highlights a number of barriers to learning in prison including a shortage of places on courses and in training workshops resulting in long waiting lists, particularly in local prisons.
Movement between prisons disrupts education due to a failure to transfer educational records and significant differences between prisons in the courses offered.
Lower mental age
Convicts interviewed in the report explain the significance for them of receiving education and training in prison.
"If you are in here for a time, you go out the same mental age as you came in, if you're not careful," was a common theme of complaints.
Prison Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon, said: "This unique study from the prisoner's perspective shows just how vital education and skills training could be to prevent re-offending and promote resettlement, and just how far policy and practice still have to shift within the prison system for education and skills to be taken seriously."