Deportees given ‘fighting chance’

Governor of HMP Maidstone Dave Atkinson and Consular Corps President Christiaan Sys

Virtual prison visits and video links between consulates and foreign prisoners could be the future, the Consular Corps was told in a talk from a prisons chief with a bold vision to modernise services for foreign offenders.

“I want to work with consuls to better prepare prisoners for re-integration in their home countries,”said Dave Atkinson, Governor of HMP Maidstone, one of two foreign-national-only prisons in the UK which accommodates 600 prisoners from 85 nations.

The prison takes in foreign offenders nearing the end of their sentence and prepares them for deportation. Since the introduction of the Immigration Act 2014, deportations has been rising steadily due to more limited rights of appeal, explained Atkinson.

“Only 5-10% of foreign offenders are released back into the UK, but the majority do not want to be returned,” he added. “This can result in difficult situations such as self-harm or violent behaviour.”

To ease the anxiety of prisoners facing deportation, the Governor wants to introduce a re-integration programme at HMP Maidstone.

The foreign-national-only prison has several advantages, he pointed out: prisoners feel less isolated; consular visits are more efficient because more prisoners can be seen; and there is an on-site Home Office immigration team.

Because prisoners typically spend no more than two years at HMP Maidstone, Atkinson has adapted the education programmes. Prisoners are offered short courses to acquire skills that can be used anywhere in the world.

In future Atkinson hopes to make better use of IT by using video links or virtual visits to facilitate more contact between prisoners and their families or with consulates.

Re-stocking the prison library with foreign-language newspapers and periodicals is another way to assist prisoners re-establish links with home, he added. Atkinson appealed to diplomatic missions to help collect reading material for the foreign prisoners.

He is also seeking their assistance in producing country-specific information packs for deportees, including basic information and contacts to help them re-integrate back into society more easily.

“I want to give them a fighting chance when they arrive home – or better still, to build those relationships before they are released,” he said.

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