Foreign Prisoners: No Release from Misery

Article excerpt

In 2007, one-quarter of the people who took their lives in British prisons were foreign-born. Not only is this disproportionate (foreign prisoners account for one in seven of the prison population) but it also represents a worrying increase on previous years, raising unsettling questions about the experience of foreign nationals behind bars in Britain.

According to the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, the rise in suicides of foreign prisoners could be related to government policy. "The rise in self-harm and suicides has gone in parallel with the stronger focus on deportation," she said. "It is clearly tied to an increased insecurity of position, compounded by an absence of effective support mechanisms."

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The spotlight turned on foreign prisoners in 2006 after a thousand foreign nationals were released instead of being considered for deportation. The then home secretary, Charles Clarke, lost his job and, in a desperate attempt to claw back credibility, the government declared that it would assume that all foreign nationals were deportable. The immigration authorities, already overstretched, were unable to cope with the extra volume of work, and foreign nationals were suddenly and unexpectedly faced with the threat of being forced abroad.

Palmela Belzer, who was born in Jamaica and served three years in Holloway Prison for drug offences, was only told she wouldn't be deported the day before her release. "When my family came to pick me up I didn't wait a second in case the authorities changed their mind," she said. Brought up in Holland, Belzer moved to the UK in 1996, where she married and had a daughter. Waiting in prison, she was so anxious about deportation that she began to self-harm. …