The revelation that the Government is giving millions of pounds to the Jamaican and Nigerian governments in order to improve those countries’ prisons has generated understandable outrage. What on earth is behind the policy?
The short answer is money. There are about 900 Jamaicans serving sentences in Britain. There are nearly 600 Nigerians. It costs around £38,000 a year to incarcerate someone in a British jail. If all the Jamaicans and Nigerians had been transferred immediately after being convicted to prisons in their home countries, it would have saved the Exchequer £57 million a year. And if all the 11,127 foreigners who are now serving sentences in UK prisons were to do their time in the jails of the countries where they were born, the annual savings would be more than £420 million.
Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to get foreign prisoners into jails in their own countries. There needs to be a “Prisoner Transfer Agreement” between Britain and the country we want to send convicted criminals to. We have such agreements with both Jamaica and Nigeria. The only problem is that it requires the criminal to agree to the transfer. If he does not, then the law says he can’t be moved from Britain. Most Nigerians and Jamaicans sentenced to jail terms here do not want to end up incarcerated in their native countries, whose prisons are usually stinking hell-holes. Their British equivalents are wonders of health and hygiene in comparison.
For years, British officials have been trying to persuade the Jamaican and Nigerian governments to agree to change the Prisoner Transfer Agreement so that the prisoner’s consent is not required. Both governments have promised that they will enact legislation to bring about the change. Neither has done so. That is hardly surprising: what’s in it for them? Nothing—unless Britain can make it worth their while. Which is why the Coalition is offering to spend several million pounds refitting jails in Nigeria and Jamaica. The deal is that if you take back your prisoners, we’ll give you our money.
Were those foreign governments to accept our cash, and use it as we intend, it would have the critical benefit of making at least some of their jails “human rights compliant”. An agreement to the compulsory transfer of Nigerian and Jamaican prisoners to their own countries would be useless if the prisoners could sue the Government under Article 3 of the Human Rights Act, claiming that they would be subjected to “inhuman and degrading treatment” were they to be placed in a jail in their own country. Officials are afraid that, unless prisoners transferred back to Nigeria or Jamaica are housed in upgraded prisons, such suits would succeed.
That’s why the Coalition proposes to hand £3 million a year to Nigeria and Jamaica to “upgrade prison facilities” and “instruct warders on human rights”. Ministers insist this policy will save money in the long run, but I don’t see how it can; they are deluded if they think there is any hope of turning Nigeria’s and Jamaica’s jails into institutions that will satisfy the European Court of Human Rights as decent and humane houses of correction.
Our Government can’t even ensure that the money will be spent in the way it wants. The record with other forms of foreign aid is frequently dismal—the Nigerians, in particular, have a reputation for managing to divert foreign donors’ money to uses other than the ones intended.
Our cash might work as a bribe to persuade the foreign governments to sign up to the involuntary transfer of their prisoners. It has no chance whatever of reforming their prison systems, however. If British ministers can persuade foreign countries to put their citizens, whom we’ve convicted, in their prisons, well and good. But leave human rights out of it—this policy is never going be “compliant”.