Deportation plan for foreign prisoners to relieve pressure on UK jails

Scheme aims to remove 3,300 people who have been charged but not convicted and some near end of sentence, as country is running out of prison places

Prisoners in Wandsworth Prison in south London. Jails are almost full, with only about 1,000 spaces. Getty Images
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The UK government plans to deport some foreign nationals held in prison ahead of their full trial so that officials can relieve overcrowding in jails.

Lower level suspected offenders from overseas, including those accused of shoplifting, stealing and drug offences, will be spared prosecution under the plans, which would see them receive “conditional cautions”, that will expel them from Britain.

The scheme aims to remove 3,300 people who have been charged but not convicted – almost a third of the 10,441 foreign inmates in prison in England and Wales, out of the total population of 88,000.

Separately, the government plans to deport more foreign criminals approaching the end of their sentences, amid warnings that the UK is running out of available prison places, with around 1,000 spaces left out of a total 89,041.

The UK has also opened negotiations with both Poland and Romania to remove prisoners who have committed more serious crimes to seek similar agreements.

Britain has already struck a deal with Albania to transfer 200 criminals who are serving sentences of four years or more. There are currently 1,323 Albanians in UK prisons, which is around 13 per cent of all foreign criminals, making them the largest national group.

It is fast-tracking the deportation of prisoners nearing the end of their sentences, while using police cells to house criminals. Foreign prisoners can be deported 18 months before the end of their sentences under the newly-expanded early removal scheme, as opposed to the six months.

“There is a power that exists in certain lower-level cases, that in place of prosecution, the Home Office deports someone,” Justice Secretary Alex Chalk told The Telegraph.

“Now there are some cases where it’s absolutely right that you are going to want to go through the criminal justice process to ensure that that person is properly punished.

“But there will be other cases where actually it’s in the public interest to simply get them out of the country.”

Criminals are banned from ever returning to the UK after being removed and a significant number of them fight deportation, citing human rights laws.

A project to build six mega prisons, with space for almost 10,000 prisoners, is around a year behind schedule due to planning delays.

Officials are reportedly working to create new blocks in existing prisons and refurbish Victorian jails, spending £400 million on 800 “pop-up” cells.

Updated: February 26, 2024, 12:31 PM