A prisoner transfer agreement about to be signed to ease congested British prisons 15 February 2009 – In an effort to release pressure on British jails, the United Kingdom and Nigeria are negotiating a prisoner transfer agreement, by which Nigerian prisoners held in the UK will be sent back to Nigeria to serve out their sentences.
Discussions are ongoing and an agreement has not yet been concluded, after months of negotiation. The agreement will be in line with the 2006 policy that does not require prior consent from prisoners to repatriation. This rule was scrapped by ministers with the intention of substantially increasing the number of prisoners who are actually deported.
Prison decongestion has become a priority for British government ever since Gordon Brown took office in 2007.
Figures were released showing that only 136 foreign national prisoners were repatriated in 2005, while 9,610 foreign nationals started jail terms in England and Wales.
It also emerged that prisoners from two jails reserved exclusively for foreign nationals were released early to ease prison overcrowding.
In October 2007, Gordon Brown pledged to establish agreements with countries with a total of 3,000 inmates in British jails, so for them to be removed more quickly.
The Prime Minister said: "We will do more by signing agreements with countries like Jamaica which have 1,400 foreign prisoners in British cells, Nigeria which has more than 1,000 foreign prisoners in British cells, Vietnam and China 400 and 300 prisoners in British cells.
"We will sign agreements with these countries so we can return prisoners from our cells as expeditiously as possible."
An agreement with Jamaica, which tops the list of foreign nationals in jails in England and Wales, had actually been already signed in June, although only a limited number of in British prisons will be returned home.
Deals on repatriation with Nigeria, Vietnam and China which account for a further 1,700 inmates. Nigerian sources reveal that the number of Nigerians to be deported under the agreement will be around 400 prisoners.
A spokesperson of the Ministry of Justice said: "We believe that it is the best interest of prisoners that they should normally serve their sentences in their own country where they can be close to their families and can be properly prepared for release into the community into which they will be released.”
Inhumane treatment of prisoners in many developing countries has however been strongly deplored by human rights organizations and institutions of developed countries.
“In British prisons I can get three meals a day, I have a right to medical care, I can complain if my rights are violated, I can’t be beaten. In Nigeria, I seriously doubt my rights would be respected”, said a Nigerian source in London.
“Any agreement aimed at sending people to those prisons in a way, shows that UK authorities don’t really care about the lives of prisoners they are sending there,” comments Stephen Ogongo, editor of Africa News.
“They should only send prisoners who explicitly ask for it, not force all to go prison there. Those who don’t want to be sent there should remain in prison in UK then after serving their sentence return to their home countries are free people.”