Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Foreign inmates 'a serious problem'

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke admits that foreign prisoners in British prisons represent a 'serious problem'

Foreign prisoners in British prisons represent a "serious problem", Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has said as he admitted the Government has not yet completed one transfer deal since coming to power 18 months ago.

With an EU-wide prisoner transfer agreement coming into force next month, shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan asked Mr Clarke in the Commons how many further deals the Government had negotiated with countries outside of Europe since coming to power.

Mr Clarke said there was only one case where negotiations were close to completing a deal. This was despite the Prime Minister David Cameron claiming he would personally intervene in negotiations to tackle the problem of foreign prisoners being released back in to the UK, MPs were told.

In a question to the Justice Secretary, Mr Khan said the new agreement with the EU, which was signed in 2007 under Labour, would make it impossible for a detainee's native country to refuse a request to take them back while the prisoner's consent for deportation would not be required.

Turning to Mr Clarke, he added: "The Prime Minister promised the repatriation of thousands of prisoners by personally taking charge of negotiations with individual countries. We all know he likes to keep his promises.

"Can you tell us how many new prisoner transfer agreements with individual countries have been successfully negotiated over the last 18 months? How many foreign prisoners do you expect to be repatriated this year?"

Mr Clarke replied: "You hit on a very serious problem. We really do have to find some way of reducing the foreign prisoner population. We only at the moment have one international bi-lateral agreement that is near to coming to a conclusion but we are continuing to work on it because (foreign prisoners) take up 10% of places in our prison system."

Prisoner transfer agreements with other countries mean that foreign inmates are not required to provide their consent to any deportation while the prisoner's native country cannot refuse a request.

Last month it emerged there were more than 5,000 foreign criminals who should have been deported but remain in the UK, including almost 4,000 who are free on the streets. The UK Border Agency (UKBA) is also struggling to reduce the number of rulings which are overturned, according to John Vine, the chief inspector of the UKBA.

His team found a total of 3,775 former foreign national prisoners who should have been deported had been released from custody and were living in the community. More than 1,600 others remained in detention, having completed their prison sentence. A further 12 are missing after either being released directly from court or referred incorrectly, he said