Foreign inmates to face deportation 'as soon as possible'

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The Independent Online

The deportation of foreign prisoners to countries such as Jamaica and Nigeria will begin as soon as possible, Gordon Brown promised yesterday as he came under pressure over the prisons crisis. The Prime Minister's pledge came amid growing controversy about the 11,000 foreign nationals in the country's jails. There are two prisons without a single British inmate.

Agreements have already been set up with more than 100 countries to enable prisoners to be deported part-way through their sentences. But ministers have struggled to arrange deals with the nations whose citizens account for the majority of foreign inmates. These are essential to enable the Government to hit its target of deporting 4,000 foreigners a year.

The largest national groups in Britain's prisons are Jamaicans (1,374 inmates), Nigerians (1,028), Irish (638), Vietnamese (437), Pakistanis (389) and Chinese (374).

Challenged in the Commons about the problem, Mr Brown told MPs the Government intended to negotiate arrangements with the administrations in Jamaica, Nigeria, Vietnam and China. He said: "We will sign agreements with these countries so we can return prisoners from our cells as expeditiously as possible."

Britain and Jamaica signed a provisional accord for the transfer of a limited number of prisoners in June, although it has not yet come into force. Talks with Nigeria are under way and a deal has also been signed with Pakistan, but this has yet to be ratified.

The Ministry of Justice said negotiations with Vietnam would begin shortly and it was consulting the Foreign Office about when to raise the issue with the Chinese. However, no deals about returning Somalis (344 inmates) or Iraqis (257) are likely at present because of the conflicts in their homelands.

John Spellar, a former Labour junior minister who has been highlighting the issue, said: "The Government needs to get a move on and get these undersirables out of the country and free up vital prison space."

The Government has been accused of allowing immigration to break down after it emerged that Bullwood Hall prison in Essex and Canterbury prison in Kent are occupied entirely by foreigners.

Lindsay Hoyle, the Labour MP for Chorley, claimed rapists were being freed early because of the shortage of prison places created by the numbers of foreign inmates, but his claim was dismissed by Mr Brown. However, the jail population climbed to a record 81,533 at the weekend, with only about 300 empty spaces.