Pressure on jail places

PUBLISHED: 21:56 15 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:01 22 October 2010


Seven foreign inmates at Norwich Prison are currently awaiting deportation and across the country 10,000 such offenders are taking up prison spaces pending a decision by the immigration officials.

Seven foreign inmates at Norwich Prison are currently awaiting deportation and across the country 10,000 such offenders are taking up prison spaces pending a decision by the immigration officials.

Concern over the continued detention of foreign prisoners whose sentences have expired or are the subject of an immigration warrant has been expressed by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for the city jail and the watchdog has asked prisons minister Gerry Sutcliffe to order the Immigration Service to help ease overcrowding.

The IMB's alarm over foreign detainees comes just weeks after the Home Office admitted more than 1,000 foreign criminals were released between 1999 and March 2006 without being considered for deportation, and that 85 of the 186 serious offenders among them - including murderers and rapists - were still at large.

Last year the IMB warned that too many immigration detainees and foreign nationals who were not being released or deported at the end of their sentences were being held at HMP Norwich. The jail was also “not an ideal location” for foreign prisoners as they were a long distance from family, there were no solicitors in this area specialising in the field, and recognised interpreters were thin on the ground.

Brian Blake, chairman of the IMB for Norwich Prison, told the EDP: “The Prison Service is right in keeping these prisoners where they have a warrant to do so, but the Immigration Service is not following it up quickly enough.

“The Immigration Service sends us a list with the prisoner's name, number, date of release, nationality and crime. Some of the offences are theft or the use of a false instrument, that level of crime is no excuse for having them in prison. They should be in an immigration centre awaiting deportation.”

The report for March 2005 to February 2006 asks the prisons minister for an assurance that the government is “vigilantly monitoring” the situation regarding foreign nationals.

“If necessary, will the minister ensure that once again instruct-ions are given that the immigrat-ion process of deciding who should be deported and who should stay should be commenced at the earliest possible opportunity (given that the number of such prisoners nationally is now in excess of 10,000).”

James Shanley, governor at Norwich Prison, said the jail had 136 foreign prisoners out of a population of about 770, and of those seven were detained on an immigration warrant which did not necessarily mean they had reached the end of a sentence.

“As a prison, providing there is a legal warrant to hold a prisoner, whether that is from the court or the Immigration Service, then I am obliged to hold that person.

“They are the people held solely on an immigration warrant at the moment. Last week we had about 12 people who are serving a prison sentence but who also have an immigration warrant.”

In its annual report published today, the IMB also calls for offenders with severe mental health problems to be moved out of the prison and into specialist care units or for prison staff to be provided with better resources to deal with what is one of the most serious issues facing the service.

Other issues raised in the report include:

high number of prison deaths and long delays in the holding of inquests

arrival of prisoners from courts as late as at 11pm means reception staff and listeners cannot provide 'human first night care'

failure to introduce the Toe by Toe mentoring reading scheme aimed at improving literacy (Norwich is one of only nine jails which has not implemented it)

unacceptable conditions in the Victorian 'A' wing

However, while the board says much work needs to be done, it concludes that Norwich is “an improving prison” and welcomes the governor's commitment to remain in post for the rest of an expected three-year period.

Mr Shanley said: “Overall, the report identifies that the prison is moving forward, although I acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to be done. I am grateful for the support of the IMB during the last 12 months and also for the hard work that staff, managers and outside agencies have put into making the changes in Norwich.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Work is under way between the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND), National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and the Prison Service to efficiently manage the increase in ex-foreign nationality prisoner detainees and in particular to transfer them to IND Removal Centres as quickly as possible.”

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