Jails are being ‘used as holding pens’ for foreign ex-offenders

People who have served prison terms are being kept behind bars while they wait to be deported, government data shows

Ministers have been accused of using jails as “holding pens” for foreign ex-offenders after it emerged that on a single day last month nearly 1,000 foreign nationals were behind bars despite completing their prison sentences.

The Independent has seen new Home Office figures from three weeks ago which show that in late August, jails in England and Wales were holding 937 people awaiting deportation – an increase of two-thirds in less than a year. As a result the prisoners are denied the legal advice and contact with family to which they are entitled.

Pentonville Prison in north London is holding 56 foreign nationals awaiting deportation, more than any other prison. Wandsworth in south-west London has 53, followed by Elmley in Kent (43) and Thameside in south-east London (42). Foreign nationals who have served their terms are still behind bars at nearly two-thirds of the country’s jails.

Critics said foreign ex-offenders are left in a legal “no-man’s land” where they struggle to get the help they need to fight their deportation or prepare for their transfer overseas. Keeping them in jail costs the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds each year. Convicted foreign nationals who have served sentences of a year or more are automatically earmarked for expulsion.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Prison is a punishment of last resort, not a holding pen for people caught up in a bureaucratic, sometimes chaotic, immigration  system. This amounts to misuse of  custody. Prison places should be  reserved for serious and violent offenders and certainly not block-booked for people held beyond their tariff.”

Maurice Wren, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The issue is the deprivation of liberty for people whose sentences have been served. Some of them had committed offences that were slight in the extreme.”

One immigration worker, who asked not to be named, said: “They cannot be guaranteed legal advice [in prison] and find themselves isolated because they are locked up night and day.”

By contrast, most illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers are issued with deportation notices and held at immigration removal centres, which have a more relaxed regime. Detainees are allowed to use mobile phones and the internet, both of which are banned in jail, and there are no restrictions on visits from friends and family.

Britain has 12 removal centres, catering for up to 3,000 people, and there are plans to convert Verne Prison in Dorset into another, able to take 600 detainees.

The issue of how to handle foreign nationals behind bars – whose numbers have doubled in 10 years – has been a continuing headache for Tory and Labour ministers alike.

No figures have been published on how long foreign nationals are being held after completing their sentences, although some are known to have remained in jail for several years, sometimes because immigration officers struggle to establish their nationality. The HM Inspector of Prisons reported last year that a foreign national who had been convicted of sex offences had been detained for a “shocking” nine years after his sentence expired.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We have always been clear that those who break our laws should be deported at the earliest opportunity.”

Case studies

“I have found it hard to get someone to help me with my immigration case. I only come out [of my cell] for one hour every day and [it is] never [long] enough for me to do anything. My experience of getting an  immigration solicitor is hard and is affecting my life. I’m tired from being locked up in prison and I don’t know when I am going to get released.” - A North African man, who is still in a London prison three years after serving his sentence. He has a partner and child in the UK.

“In prison it is impossible for people like myself to gain access to [a telephone] for the purpose of social or solicitors’ calls. Detainees in IRCs have access to mobile phones, the internet and other services, while I’m being made to follow a ‘B Category’ prison regime where I was  transferred four months after my sentence expired. Access to legal services is nil.” - A West African man, who was held for eight months at a Midlands jail after his sentence.

Caught: End of a ministerial career

The issue of foreign prisoners ended Charles Clarke’s rise through Labour’s ministerial ranks in 2006 and has continued to haunt his successors as Home Secretary.

The news that the Home Office had released more than 1,000 foreign prisoners who should have been considered for deportation caught Mr Clarke unawares and he battled for a month to hang on to his job.

It did not help that several reoffended, or that he omitted to tell the Prime Minister about the bungle for several weeks.

As the damaging headlines continued, Tony Blair offered him a lower-ranking Cabinet post. Mr Clarke refused it and returned to the backbenches. He lost his seat at the general election of 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness