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The Prison Service has converted two jails to hold only foreign national prisoners, it has been revealed.
Bullwood Hall, Essex, and Canterbury Prison, Kent, have been taking foreign offenders since the 2006 crisis over prisoners who had not been deported.
The Ministry of Justice said the jails, which have immigration and language services, were part of a plan to deport as many foreign prisoners as possible.
More than 11,000 of the 81,000 prison population are foreign nationals.
In 2006 the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke was sacked over the Home Office’s failure to process the cases of 1,000 foreign national prisoners in England and Wales who could have been eligible for deportation.
The decision to convert two prisons just for foreign inmates came as the department reviewed its deportation strategy.
But the move to set up the two specialist prisons has come with virtually no publicity.
The names of the jails emerged in a briefing by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers. Bullwood Hall is now holding 172 prisoners, while a further 283 are at Canterbury.
About 11,000 others are detained elsewhere alongside British prisoners.
Ms Owers said the two prisons had been given specific services for foreign inmates, including language support and advice on immigration issues.
She said it was easier to provide these services in one place and the move was similar to other specialist prisons such as those for juveniles.
The Independent Monitoring Board, which reports on prison conditions, said staff at Bullwood Hall had been unprepared for the move, but at Canterbury it was working well.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, which has been responsible for prisons since the break-up of the Home Office, said the two jails each had five immigration officials brought in to speed up deportation procedures.
Ministers would also review how well the two prisons were working to decide if any more should be set up, although the costs per inmate were higher at more than £38,000.
“The foreign national prisoner prisons are higher than the average cost of a category C trainer [prison] due to additional costs for translators and other specialist services,” said a spokesman.
Justice minister David Hanson said the jails were an experiment to see if deportations could be speeded up.
He said agreements had been set up with more than 100 countries which meant prisoners deported part-way through their sentences could serve the remainder in their home country.
Talks were ongoing to try to establish agreements with more countries including Jamaica, Nigeria and Vietnam, he said.
He told BBC’s Breakfast 1,500 foreign criminals were deported in 2005, rising to 2,500 last year and it was expected 4,000 would be deported this year.
The Home Office said it was “currently taking legislation through the House of Commons to improve the speed with which individuals are identified and processed for deportation”.
Shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert said: “If the government kept its promise to deport them [foreign prisoners], there would be extra space in our jails and no reason to release other prisoners early.”
The MP for Canterbury and Whitstable, Tory Julian Brazier, said: “Our prisons would not be anything like so overcrowded today if they had stopped illegal foreigners coming in and rapidly deported those convicted of crimes at the end.”
Former chief inspector of prisons Lord David Ramsbotham said the converted prisons made sense but more were needed.
“Concentrating on foreign nationals in one prison makes it easier for that prison and also lessens the problems elsewhere,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“But when you look at the figures there are a huge number of prisoners in Wormwood Scrubs and Wandsworth, and having two prisons holding about 500 prisoners out of a total of about 11,000 is merely scratching the surface of a bigger problem.”
Colin Moses, of the Prison Officers Association, said it would be better to put resources into moving them through the system more quickly and repatriating them.
But Paddy Scriven, general secretary of the Prison Governors Association, said it made it easier to manage the prison purse and stopped foreign inmates from being so isolated.
(Posted on October 29, 2007)