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United Kingdom Creates Foreigner Only Prisons

In mid-2007, the United Kingdom (UK) designated two detention facilities to be occupied solely by foreign national prisoners. If the plan is successful, the government intends to expand the practice beyond the Bullwood Hall and Canterbury prisons.

The move comes as the proportion of foreign prisoners to English prisoners continues to increase. There are 11,300 foreigners who face deportation after they complete their sentences among the UK’s prison population of 83,000.

The so-called “specialist prisons” aim to provide better services to incarcerated foreign nationals. Due to language and cultural barriers, prison officials had reported difficulty in providing care to mentally ill foreign prisoners. It was hoped that by having all foreign nationals in one place rather than spread throughout the prison system, services could be improved to meet their needs.

The government itself will also benefit. Officials from the UK’s Border and Immigration Agency hope to identify each prisoner’s immigration issues so as to hasten their deportation. In 2007, approximately 4,000 foreigners were deported after being discharged from prisons in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales. This year, 2,400 have been deported as of June 2008.

The deportations are deemed necessary because “the prison estate is bursting at the seams,” said Nick Herbert, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, who hopes to remove all of the UK’s foreign prisoners. “If the Government kept its promise to deport them, there would be extra space in our jails and no reason to release other prisoners early.”

The issue is also one of political importance. In 2006, Home Secretary Charles Clarke resigned after it was learned that 1,023 foreign national prisoners, including some convicted of serious crimes, had not been deported after they were released.

The foreigner-only prison plan has had a rocky start. The BBC reported that foreign nationals discharged from the Bullwood Hall facility were not provided with adequate pre-release services, since prison officials had incorrectly assumed they would be deported. However, many of the prisoners were not subject to deportation because they had short sentences, long-established residence in the UK, or were European Union nationals who have different deportation rules.

Further, the prison’s immigration team was described as “unsettled, relatively inexperienced and poorly equipped” in a June 2008 report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, which noted the facility was converted to house foreign nationals on short notice and with little guidance.

Sources: The Times, The Telegraph, BBC

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