Thousands of foreign prisoners freed early with compensation
Thousands of foreign prisoners have been released from jail before the end of their sentence and given cash to compensate for the loss of food and board.
By Rosa Prince, Political Correspondent
Last Updated: 3:05PM GMT 26 Dec 2008
Figures released by the Conservatives show that 2,196 foreign offenders have been invited to take part in the early release scheme, called End of Custody Licence, since its introduction 15 months ago in response to prison overcrowding.
As well as walking free having served less than half of their sentence, each released prisoner is entitled to around 7 a day in compensation to make up for missing out on the state-provided food and lodging they would have received had they remained in jail.
Offenders released on End of Custody Licence receive an initial discharge payment of 46, followed by the subsistence allowance of 47.12 a week, up to a cap of 168.24.
If all those eligible received the full allowance, the taxpayer would by now have paid out 369,455 in compensation to foreign prisoners who had been released early.
The disclosure, in a written Parliamentary answer from the Ministry of Justice, follows recent pledges by Gordon Brown that foreign nationals who commit crimes in Britain “will be deported” and “will pay the price”.
Nick Herbert, the shadow justice secretary, said that for every three foreign prisoners the Home Office was now removing from the UK, two more were allowed to go free and six entered the prison system.
He added: “The Government want to create the impression that they're successfully deporting foreign national criminals, but the truth is that for every three prisoners they remove, two more are released onto the streets.
“Far from paying the price as Gordon Brown promised, foreign national offenders are being rewarded by serving less than half of their jail sentence and with taxpayers' cash in their back pockets.”
There are now around a thousand more foreign prisoners in British jails than in 2006 when Charles Clarke was forced to resign as Home Secretary amid accusations that the Home Office had failed to deport overseas offenders.
The number of foreigners in prison currently stands at 11,168, up 11 per cent since Mr Clarke's departure, with offenders from Vietnam and Poland accounting for more than half of the increase. There are 460 Vietnamese in UK jails along with 452 Poles.
Such is the scale of offending by foreigners that there are now three jails reserved exclusively for prisoners from overseas: Canterbury in Kent, Bullwood Hall in Essex and Morton Hall in Lincoln. The equivalent of one more prison is taken up by offenders who have served their sentence and are awaiting deportation, at an average annual cost of 40,000 each a total of 22 million.
It is possible to deport an offender only if an agreement exists with their country of origin to take them.
The Tories say that Government pledges to sign agreements with Jamaica, China and Nigeria have yet to be fulfilled.
David Hanson, the Justice Minister, said that the early release scheme would end as soon as work was completed to expand the number of prison places.
He added: “All prisoners are provided with basic subsistence to enable them to pay for accommodation, food and essentials following release.”
Meanwhile, separately the Home Office announced that a record number of foreign prisoners had been deported in the last 12 months.
The UK Border Agency sent 5,000 foreign offenders back to their country of origin, exceeding last year's total of 4,200.
They included 50 killers and attempted killers, more than 200 sex offenders and more than 1,500 convicted of drug offences.
Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, said: “Britain will not tolerate those that come here and break our rules.”