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05 February 2024

Transferring UK prisoners to foreign prisons a “very expensive and a very complicated way” of increasing capacity

Plans to transfer UK prisoners to foreign prisons are a “very expensive and a very complicated” way of increasing prison capacity, PRT’s deputy director Mark Day said in his oral evidence to the Justice committee’s inquiry on prison population and capacity on 9 January 2024.

The Prison Reform Trust’s written evidence to the House of Common’s public bill committee for the Criminal Justice Bill focuses on the provisions of clauses 25–29 of the bill. These proposals would allow for the transfer of prisoners held in England and Wales to an overseas prison, where a relevant agreement is in place between the UK government and a foreign country.

We are concerned that these proposed powers are too wide ranging and fail to provide for adequate parliamentary oversight. As the chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill MP stated in a recent letter to the Secretary of State for Justice:

“there is a real risk that a future government could enter into agreement with a foreign country and then implement that agreement through the power in Clause 29 without either the House of Commons or the House of Lords having had the chance to decide whether to assent to the agreement.”

Sir Bob Neill MP, Chair of the House of Commons Justice Committee

The bill is also silent on how those subject to this proposed arrangement will be treated. The bill currently contains nothing to guarantee that the same legal standards for treatment and conditions which apply in England and Wales will be required for those held in a foreign prison. We are calling for any agreement made between the UK and a foreign country to be subject to full Parliamentary scrutiny and oversight; and to explicitly state that compliance with existing human rights standards and obligations is necessary.

We were pleased to see that concerns raised in our written evidence were shared by the shadow justice minister Alex Cunningham MP during a committee debate on 18 January and we will continue our work as the bill continues its passage through Parliament.

Further resources

All the written evidence received by the committee is available here.

The proposed measures were originally announced by Alex Chalk in October 2023 at the Conservative party conference as a measure to mitigate the prison capacity crisis. PRTs Deputy Director, Mark Day wrote a blog outlining our concerns. Read the full blog here.