April 26, 2006: Upsurge Of Foreign Criminals Stretches Prisons To The Limit
The Times April 26, 2006
Upsurge of foreign criminals stretches prisons to the limit
By Richard Ford, Home Correspondent
OVERCROWDING in jails in England and Wales has been made worse by a huge increase in foreigners sentenced for crimes committed in this country.
The number of foreigners in jail has increased by more than 150 per cent over the past decade, which has all but overwhelmed prison staff as the number of prisoners who were born in Britain has also increased. An estimated one in every eight prisoners in England and Wales is now a foreign citizen.
The latest figures from the Home Office show that at the end of February there were 10,265 foreign prisoners in England and Wales. The total prison population was 76,670.
The foreign prisoners, whose number has increased from 4,200 ten years ago, come from 165 countries. In at least three jails foreigners now make up more than 50 per cent of the total number of prisoners.
Foreign prisoners make up almost 82 per cent of the 249 women being held in Morton Hall jail, Lincolnshire.
More than half of the 1,200 inmates in Wormwood Scrubs, West London, almost half of the 287 male inmates in The Verne, at Portland, Dorset, and almost a quarter of inmates in Pentonville, North London, are foreign.
Wormwood Scrubs holds more foreigners than any other prison. They come from 85 countries and speak at least 24 languages.
More than half the foreign prisoners are from Pakistan, Turkey, India, Jamaica, the Irish Republic and Nigeria. Four out of ten sentenced men and eight out of ten sentenced women have been convicted of drug offences. The huge increase in foreign prisoners is a result of much easier international travel, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the lifting of visa restrictions for Eastern Europeans before the former Soviet states joined the EU.
Ministers would like to ease prison overcrowding in jails by sending foreign inmates home to serve their sentence. But to do so they must be able to ensure that they will serve the same time in prison as they would if serving their sentence in England and Wales. Ministers would also have to be assured that prisoners would be treated properly. At one point prison officials were so concerned about the problem that they suggested that the British Government pay to build a jail in Jamaica for people who had been convicted of crimes in England and Wales.
Juliet Lyon, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, said last night: Despite being held in record numbers, foreign prisoners often lack basic information about prison rules and the legal system, struggle to gain accurate legal and immigration advice and, in the general confusion, many are held beyond their prison discharge date.
A total of 537 prisoners were released suddenly in 1996 after the Prison Service found that it had been miscalculating sentences for almost 30 years.
More than 7,000 Eastern Europeans were allowed into Britain by the Home Office in 2003 despite warnings from diplomats that their applications were probably bogus. Of 8,000 who applied for business startup visas last year, British diplomats believed that 7,200 should have been turned down. Only about 100 were rejected.