Page last updated at 14:04 GMT, Friday, 30 January 2009

Deportation delays 'costing 10m'

A prisoner
More than 5,000 offenders were deported in 2008

Holding criminals awaiting deportation in immigration centres is costing the taxpayer 10m a year, says Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green.

Nearly 1,200 ex-prisoners are being held in detention centres - at a cost of about 47,500 each a year, he says.

He said ministers had failed in their promise to automatically deport foreign criminals, at great expense.

Last month ministers said a target to remove at least 5,000 foreign convicts in the past year had been met.

Mr Green said answers to Parliamentary questions by the Conservatives showed tens of millions of pounds was being wasted on holding foreign criminals in unsuitable centres.

This is not only a waste of our money, it is dangerous
Damian Green

Holding people in detention centres costs nearly 10,000 more per person than the cost of keeping people in prison, the Conservatives say.

"The taxpayer is being fleeced yet again to pay for failures in the government's immigration policy.

"Gordon Brown promised 'automatic deportation' of foreign criminals, but we have nearly 1,200 of them locked up very expensively in centres not designed to hold hardened criminals."

"This is not only a waste of our money, it is dangerous. The riots and fires we have seen at detention centres in recent years often come about because criminals become the dominant group inside the centre."

'Public safety'

The Home Office said the higher cost per inmate of detention centres was due to a range of factors including the fact they were much smaller than prisons and were close to airports, making land prices and rents higher.

It said the government's first priority was "protecting the public" and the record number of deportations of foreign criminals last year showed its "continued commitment to removing the most harmful people first".

The foreign criminals issue cost Charles Clarke his job as home secretary in 2006, when it emerged more than 1,000 had been released from prison, without being considered for deportation.

It prompted his successor, John Reid, to declare parts of the system "not fit for purpose" and led to an overhaul of procedures.

In December the UK Border Agency said it had met the "tough target" set to remove at least 5,000 foreign criminals a year - including 50 convicted of either murder or attempted murder - and had staff working in prisons to speed up deportations.

Ministers say all non-EU prisoners convicted of serious drug or gun crimes are now considered for deportation, irrespective of the length of their sentence.

But strict rules govern which foreign criminals can be removed from the UK - those who have their family life in the UK, and in particular those from EU countries, are among the hardest to remove on human rights grounds.



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