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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 April 2006, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
Q and A: Foreign prisoner numbers
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

Prison
Foreign prisoners: Increase in last decade
What do we know about foreign prisoners in British jails? Where do they come from and why are they there?

As of the end of June 2007, some 10,097 foreign nationals were in British jails, representing about 14% of the prison population.

The number of foreign prisoners is roughly 150% up on the number a decade ago - 4,259 prisoners. The total rose slightly in the past year after ministers brought in new policies to hold foreign nationals pending deportation decisions, rather than release them at the end of their sentence.

In all, however, these criminals comprise less than a quarter of 1% of all foreign-born people in Britain, as recorded in the 2001 Census.

Where do the prisoners come from?

The prisoners come from 169 different countries, according to official figures. The largest groups are prisoners from Jamaica, Pakistan, the Irish Republic, Nigeria and Vietnam.

Taken together they form approximately a third of the total. Jamaicans comprise 13% of all foreign national prisoners. Some 19 nationalities have only one prisoner each in British jails.

The nationality of just under 900 prisoners is unrecorded, a category that includes people whose identity has not been adequately established or is official disputed.

What kind of offences have these people committed?

According to prison service figures, the vast majority of foreign national prisoners have committed drugs offences, often drug trafficking.

Eight out of 10 jailed foreign women have been convicted of drug offences - an indicator of how many women from poor countries become bit-players in international criminal enterprises by taking money as couriers.

Figures show that foreign nationals have a lower re-conviction rate after being released, largely because so many of them leave the country, either voluntarily or forcibly.

Where are these prisoners kept?

Until this year there was no specific policy for where these prisoners should be housed.

Concentrating on foreign nationals in one prison makes it easier for that prison and also lessens the problems elsewhere
Former chief prisons inspector Lord David Ramsbotham

This meant that they were spread around the prison system. For instance, as of June this year there were 169 foreign inmates in Birmingham Prison and almost 200 in Manchester. But now that is changing.

The prison system is designed to put inmates into particular prisons, based on the type of offence they have committed, their security risk and their likelihood of re-offending.

This means some inmates will spend their sentence in a maximum security jail whereas others, particularly younger petty criminals, will be sent to a "training" facility.

The problem with foreign prisoners is that they are not always eligible for training, because they may be facing deportation, and prisons need to factor in extra resources such as translators.

So, two prisons have now been set aside specifically for foreign prisons - Bullwood Hall in Essex and Canterbury in Kent.

This has meant more of the services for those prisoners being centralised in these jails. At the same time, each prison has dedicated immigration officials working out who can be deported.

Why did foreign prisoners become an issue?

Between 1999 and 2006, the Home Office released some 1,000 foreign nationals from prison convicted of serious crimes. These were people who normally should have been considered for deportation.

More than 870 had been serving at least 12 months, and 13 were serving more than 10 years.

The 1,023 prisoners had been convicted of a wide range of offences, the largest single groups being drugs offences, forgery, robbery, deception and violence.

Those releases ultimately led to the row over deportations and whether or not the Home Office was in control. Charles Clarke was sacked as Home Secretary and his successors, John Reid and now Jacqui Smith, have pledged to ensure there is no repeat of these failing.

So what are the rates of deportation now?

Ministers say they have "speeded up our systems" to ensure quicker and more efficient deportations.

The Home Office says it has doubled the deportation rate and introduced a scheme to return foreign prisoners to their own countries before their sentences finish. Further legislation is before MPs.

So will all these prisoners be deported?

Not at all. Deportation is a complex business which has to take into account family ties. Special rules covering the 2,200 EU inmates mean that many of them cannot be deported unless they pose a fundamental risk to the interests of society.

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