Foreign criminals face deportation to ease prison overcrowding

There are 10,441 foreign offenders in jails in England and Wales

Alex Chalk makes his way to 10 Downing Street in central London on February 19, 2024. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Pramod Thomas

FOREIGN criminals who commit lower-level offenses in the UK will face deportation rather than prosecution, as outlined by justice secretary Alex Chalk.

The move aims to alleviate prison overcrowding and prioritise the safety of British citizens, reported The Telegraph.

Chalk explained that foreign offenders, including shoplifters, thieves, and drug dealers, will receive “conditional cautions” instead of jail time. This means they will be expelled from the country and barred from returning to Britain.

The deportation scheme, overseeing by policing minister Chris Philp, targets the 3,300 foreign prisoners awaiting trial, who represent almost a third of all foreign offenders in English and Welsh jails.

While the plan is intended to streamline the justice system and free up prison space, potential legal challenges from criminals could pose obstacles, the report said.

Chalk also revealed negotiations with Poland and Romania to deport dangerous prisoners to their home countries and accelerate the expulsion of foreign offenders nearing the end of their sentences.

The Justice Secretary emphasised the necessity of increasing prison capacity to uphold public safety. He expressed frustration over the taxpayer burden – £47,000 a year for every inmate – of housing foreign prisoners and has initiated agreements with Albania to transfer certain criminals serving lengthy sentences back to their homeland.

“There is a power that exists in certain lower-level cases, that in place of prosecution, the Home Office deports someone. 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,” he was quoted as saying.

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

The early removal scheme, which allows for deportation 18 months before a prisoner’s sentence ends, is being expanded to further alleviate overcrowding.

To address the crisis, resources have been allocated to expedite the deportation process, including a fast-track system for appeals and the use of police cells for overflow prisoners.

Chalk acknowledged delays in the construction of new prisons due to planning issues but assured efforts to create additional cell capacity through refurbishments and temporary measures.

The justice secretary faces pressure to ensure sufficient prison spaces amid impending sentencing reforms, which may lead to increased demand for detention.

He explained that the prison overcrowding problem came from two important choices made by government ministers during the Covid-19 pandemic. First, they decided against releasing 16,000 prisoners early, as suggested in plans by MoJ officials. Second, they chose to keep jury trials going, which is seen as a key freedom for British citizens.