Campaigners criticise checks for vulnerable people
Delays in processing applications to restrict vulnerable people's freedom are equivalent to imprisoning people without trial, campaigners have said.
Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) are applied for when hospitals or care homes need to limit where people can go for their own safety.
But a charity said it was worried about the delays and the number of deprivations of liberty that are ultimately not upheld.
Social services are prioritising cases.
When a vulnerable person - usually suffering from a severe learning disability or dementia - has limits put on what they can do, an institution has to apply to the local council to authorise the deprivation of their liberty.
A 2014 Supreme Court ruling means every individual is entitled to their own assessment rather than a general one.
As a result, DoLs applications to local councils and health boards in Wales have risen 16-fold since 2013 - from 631 in 2013/14 to 10,679 in 2014/15.
Applications are supposed to be completed in 21 days.
But Rachael Nicholson, of the charity Action on Elder Abuse Cymru, said she was worried about the delays and the numbers of deprivations of liberty not subsequently upheld.
"People are in a cage. It may be a very safe, pleasant way of looking after people but a gilded cage is still a cage," she told BBC Radio Wales' Eye on Wales programme.
"If you're looking at the equivalent, you're sending people to prison without going through the criminal justice system."
Despite extra Welsh Government funding, the system is struggling to cope, with 43% of applications received during 2014/15 outstanding at the end of the year.
Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales and Healthcare Inspectorate Wales - which jointly monitor the use of DoLS - have said the increase in applications and the time taken to process them was "unprecedented" but "not surprising".
Their annual report covering 2014/15 said: "The volume of activity and the apparent consequences for DoLS application processing times may have real consequences for people."
Liz Majer, of the Association of Directors of Social Services in Wales, said DoLs teams were prioritising the cases where there may be concerns.
"There are people living in residential homes who are quite happy, quite compliant, have no desire to leave those homes. Those would be low priority," she said.
"We know we have to assess them. But we will prioritise those people who have greatness need."
- Eye on Wales is on BBC Radio Wales at 12:30 BST on Sunday, 20 March.