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Last Updated: Monday, 15 May 2006, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
Q&A: Foreign criminal crisis
Panorama reporter Steve Bradshaw

You sent your questions to Panorama reporter Steve Bradshaw about his film, Labour's foreign criminal crisis.

We received such a large number of emails that Steve could not answer all of them but he has tried to find answers to the subjects which came up most frequently.

Steve Bradshaw: Thanks very much for all of your questions to me about our film which looked at the scale of the problem of freed prisoners who should be deported.

If you want to watch it again or if you missed it you can see it by clicking on the globe in the right hand column on this page.

When I worked on this film I was surprised to find out that almost one in eight prisoners are foreign nationals. I tried to look at the consequences of this. But as some people wrote in their emails the question of the causes for this high number also has to be considered.

Mike Vere says we should consider why so many people get sent to prison in the first place. But we may also need to ask why so many foreign nationals are jailed. Is it because the crimes they're likely to commit are precisely those we target most?

A disturbingly high percentage are female, Jamaican drug mules who may either be relatively ubiquitous or easily caught. One answer suggested to us is that foreign nationals are more likely to belong to marginalized socio-economic groups with high crime commission rates.

I'll keep my powder dry on some of your more technical questions, being a reporter not an immigration lawyer. Incidentally, I did once effectively become a world expert on the permeability of latex condoms for Panorama but enough is enough.

But for Tim Ellis the answer is, as far as I know, all the prisoners we're talking about were indeed released having served their sentences. I note Tim writes from France. I believe there are high numbers of foreign nationals in French and German jails. Their figures are maybe affected by different citizenship rules. We do seem to have a Europe-wide issue here.

Stephen Fowley, writing from Nottingham, my home town, reckons we were being easy on the Chilean man, Ernesto Leal. Well, this wasn't meant to be a forensic examination of the case, and yes it would have been interesting to find the view of the person he wounded.

But if you've lived here most of your life, do you get any special consideration at all? On the other hand as D Lee says, the question of whether people do or do not apply for nationality if they can may well be relevant.

Yogesh Raja suggests foreign criminals may target Britain for ID fraud. This is an issue. It is used by some to support ID cards. Astonishingly, we were also told some foreign nationals deliberately commit crimes because it's a relatively convenient way of papering themselves up as British nationals. But I don't have any direct evidence for that.

Stephen and also Simon Stuart query my remark 'most crime is committed by British nationals'. I thought it was clearly a statement of the obvious and I'd rather assumed the whole text didn't need spelling out but here is a version: "You may think from the focus on foreign nationals in this programme that we have an obsession with foreign national crime but we don't. We're as aware as anyone that most crime is of course committed by British nationals!" Sorry if it came across as a bit cryptic or reprimanding.

Tony Morgan suggests people should be deported and then serve sentences in foreign jails. But should other countries carry out penalties imposed by our courts? Would you want to consign anyone to certain African jails? I recommend a recent piece in the New York Times on the subject.

What Paul Alker rightly brings up is essentially the issue of double jeopardy. Should someone effectively be punished twice? Once by a jail sentence and again by deportation? Well yes, but of course the justice system isn't just about punishment, it's also about prevention.

And on this subject a number of you raised questions about human rights, treaties and the need for a joined-up legal system. Absolutely these are big issues that lie behind the whole debate and the consideration of which surely ought to go right up the jurisprudential food chain.

I do wonder if almost everyone in the whole spectrum of policy from immigration officers, prison warders, academics (I couldn't find one who'd specialized in this issue) to politicians and, yes, journalists, weren't taken by surprise by that startling one in eight figure.

Are there easy fixes? Ben in Brighton suggests we should automatically deport criminals. But what is a crime? Someone I know well was once stopped by American state police, told to stay in their car with their windows down, had their visa status checked, and was then solemnly warned that any similar violation in the future might affect their immigration status.

The crime? Driving at twenty eight miles an hour. But then it was in a Pueblo Indian reservation.

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