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Last Updated: Friday, 3 November 2006, 00:11 GMT
Foreign inmate system 'not cured'
Prison bars
Communication with foreign prisoners can be difficult
Failings in prison and immigration services which led to the foreign prisoners scandal have still not been eliminated, a watchdog has warned.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers identified "systemic failures" at all levels in the care of foreign inmates.

And she said liaison between jails and immigration services was inadequate.

Scandal erupted six months ago over news many foreign inmates were not considered for deportation. Ministers say systems have since improved.

In a joint statement, Liam Byrne, minister for immigration, and Gerry Sutcliffe, under-secretary for justice, said there was a detailed action plan to improve systems.

'Still major problems'

"Significant progress has already been made - we have removed 1,000 foreign national prisoners since May."

They added that a range of measures had been introduced including a scheme aimed at giving prisoners incentives to complete sentences in their home countries.

The report was based on visits to 10 jails and surveys of nearly 6,000 inmates.

Most of the research was done before May - when the scandal first broke - but some later work showed there were still major problems, said Ms Owers.

Thanks to incompetence and delay over immigration the government is in the ridiculous position of holding prisoners in police cells while foreign nationals are stuck in prison
Juliet Lyon

She said: "The prisons are getting better at looking after foreign prisoners but the indications from work we did in August and September was that systems and liaisons with immigration were not sufficiently good.

"I do not think yet that there are effective systems on the immigration side for dealing with the huge amount of new work that has been generated by this exercise.

"You cannot immediately put right what was a major systemic problem."

Ms Owers said there had been a "log-jam" of foreign nationals in prison since April, adding: "What is still needed is good and effective systems within prisons and effective liaison and support with immigration to ensure sensible and enforceable decisions."

The failure to make decisions on whether or not to deport had been corrected but there were now shortcomings in what happened after that stage, she said.

The report also said there was "extreme frustration" in jails at the lack of support from the Home Office's immigration and nationality directorate (IND).

It said communication with foreign prisoners was difficult, with some officers saying a telephone translation service was too expensive.

It described how one young Chinese woman cried for two days after arriving in prison, as officers tried to track down a translation service.

When a translator was found, it emerged that she thought she was to be executed by a firing squad.

Ms Owers is now calling on ministers to tackle the "underlying causes" of the problem rather than reacting to the symptoms.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Thanks to incompetence and delay over immigration the government is in the ridiculous position of holding prisoners in police cells while foreign nationals are stuck in prison, held beyond sentence when often their dearest wish is to go home."

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