(Jamaica Observer) THE British Government is to fund a prisonbuilding programme in poor countries, including Jamaica, in order to get more foreign inmates out of the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron announced late last week.
According to a report in the online edition of the Daily Mail newspaper, Cameron admitted that too many foreign prisoners were in England and said “helping to build prisons in their own country” would ensure more were kicked out.
“Despite promises to cut the number of foreign inmates behind bars in Britain, the numbers have increased in recent years,” the Daily Mail report said.
“Ministers have struggled to remove even hardened criminals because jails abroad are overflowing or do not comply with human rights laws,” the Mail added. “By paying for building new jails or making existing ones more ‘comfortable’ so they approach British standards, it is hoped more will be repatriated.”
According to the newspaper, the prime minister made the announcement during a ‘Cameron Direct’ event on the local elections campaign trail in Carlisle.
“When people are sent to prison in the UK we should do everything we can to make sure that if they’re foreign nationals, they are sent back to their country to serve their sentence in a foreign prison,” the Mail quoted Cameron.
“And I’m taking action in Government to say look, we have strong relationships with all of the countries where these people come from. Many are coming from Jamaica, many from Nigeria, many from other countries in Asia.
“We should be using all of the influence we have to sign prisoner transfer agreements with those countries. Even, if necessary, frankly helping them to build prisons in their own country so we can send the prisoners home.
“I’m going to be setting out a programme of how we do that, country by country by country. Because it is not good enough, the situation we have in Britain today,” Cameron said.
According to the Daily Mail report, there are now 10,861 foreign inmates in British jails. They make up around 14 per cent of the prison population, with each costing an average of approximately £40,000 a year to keep inside.
Jamaicans, the newspaper said, top the nationality table with 900 prisoners last year, followed by Poland with 750, Ireland 737, and Nigeria 594.
The Mail said that since 2010, there has been a sharp fall in the number of serious criminals sent home.
“That year, 5,342 were deported. The following year — the first full 12 months of coalition Government — the figure was down 13 per cent to 4,649.
“In the first nine months of 2012 some 3,382 were deported — suggesting the annual total would fall even further.”
However, the Mail pointed out that sending money abroad to lock up prisoners, in addition to the billions spent in foreign aid, while budgets are being cut at home, will prove highly controversial for the Cameron Government.
This is not the first time a prison-building programme involving the British Government has been considered.
In October 2007, the then Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Administration announced that plans were advanced for the construction of a new correctional facility in Amity Hall, St Catherine.
The facility, which was estimated to cost $750 million, was set to accommodate both males and females, with a capacity for about 5,000 beds. Then minister of state for national security, Senator Arthur Williams, said proposals were being accepted and that stage of the project should have been completed by December 4 of that year. He announced further that construction of the facility should begin by late 2008 and the project period was about three years.
Senator Williams said that on completion, the new facility would help to seriously reduce overcrowding at the St Catherine District Prison, Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, and Fort Augusta, the women’s prison.
However, last February, current National Security Minister Peter Bunting told the Jamaica Observer that nothing had been done to advance that plan since the announcement was made. According to Bunting, all that was done was that two ministry officials were sent abroad to tour correctional facilities.
When the Observer contacted former national security minister in the JLP Government, Dwight Nelson, he said two attempts were made by the JLP Administration to make the facility a reality. However, it did not get off the ground because of a lack of financing.
At the time Nelson, who said he was speaking from memory since he was not in possession of the relevant files, revealed that the first attempt was when the British Government proposed to finance the building of the facility, which was expected to house at least 800 Jamaican inmates in UK prisons whom the British wanted to have returned to Jamaica to serve their sentences.
“I had discussions with them to work out a quid pro quo, where they would finance the facility and we see how best it could accommodate the 800 prisoners they wanted to have returned,” he said.
However, following the discussions with two British Cabinet ministers, Nelson said the plan was shelved as the UK experienced its share of financial constraints caused by the recession.
Between 2010 and 2011, Nelson said, another proposal was placed on the table, this time by both a private British and Jamaican company, but that, too, was shelved due to the inability of the Jamaican Government to make any financial contribution.