Government to step up deportations in bid to free up space in prisons

Ministers are to unveil a slate of emergency measures in a bid to free up space

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Monday 16 October 2023 11:36 BST

Related video: ‘Overcrowded’ Wandsworth Prison under pressure for ‘very long time’ amid prisoner escape

The government will try and free up space in Britain's overcrowded prisons by speeding up the deportation of criminals from abroad, it has announced.

The move is the first of a series of plans to be unveiled by the Lord Chancellor on Monday aimed at tackling the lack of prison space.

Judges have reportedly been told to hold off jailing serious criminals and prison governors said this week it was “inevitable” that space would run out, with just 557 places left.

The Independent revealed this week that Rishi Sunak had been told three years ago by the National Audit Office that prisons would be full by the second half of 2023 – but failed to avert the crisis.

Now ministers are to unveil a slate of emergency measures in a bid to free up space – including sending “foreign criminals” back to their country of origin sooner.

Currently, criminals from abroad can be sent back to their countries of origin in the last year of their sentence. Ministers say they are hoping to expand this period to 18 months.

There will also be new immigration rules to ban people removed in the scheme from returning to the UK. Further measures are expected to be announced in a statement to parliament on Monday.

The government removed 3,100 foreign offenders in the year up to March 2023 – 10,500 remain in prison in England and Wales

Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk KC said: “It’s right that foreign criminals are punished but it cannot be right that some are sat in prison costing taxpayers £47,000 a year when they could be deported.

“Instead of letting foreign nationals take up space in our prisons at vast expense to the law-abiding public we will take action to get them out of the country and stop them from ever returning.”

The male prison population grew by 192 inmates in a week to hit 88,604, Ministry of Justice figures published on Friday show. It grew by 211 the previous week, when there were reported to be just 150 spaces remaining.

The government is reported to be considering multiple short-term solutions, including telling judges they should avoid issuing prison sentences of less than 12 months, in favour of community sentences for offences such as shoplifting, public disorder and drink-driving.

The minister is expected to unofficially brand this community work “Texas-style” because a similar approach has been tried in the US state and led to reduced rates of reoffending.

Prison recalls – which last only a maximum of two weeks – could also be scrapped for people who served less than 12 months in jail, while prisoners serving sentences of up to seven years could be released three months early.

Shabana Mahmood, Labour shadow justice secretary, told the Times newspaper: “The only thing Texan about this government is that they are running the country like cowboys.”

It comes after The Times reported on Wednesday that Lord Justice Edis, the senior presiding judge in England and Wales, had “ordered/strongly encouraged” crown court judges to delay the sentencing of criminals on bail because prisons are nearly full.

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