The incarceration of foreigners in European prisons

Authored by: Thomas Ugelvik

The Routledge Handbook on Crime and International Migration

Print publication date:  September  2014
Online publication date:  July  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415823944
eBook ISBN: 9780203385562
Adobe ISBN: 9781135924331


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Prison populations have grown in most European countries over the last few decades. Simultaneously, the profile of the prison populations has changed considerably in many jurisdictions. Western European correctional services are, to varying degrees, waking up to the reality of having to cope with increasing numbers of foreign nationals in their institutions. Eastern European governments, on the other hand, have to deal with growing numbers of their citizens incarcerated in foreign countries and foreign governments putting pressure on them to accept the return of these prisoners to serve out the rest of their sentences in their country of origin. The everyday difficulties associated with housing scores of foreigners who might have different wants and needs from those which one commonly finds among domestic prisoners, combined with the ever-growing task of transferring prisoners and deporting newly released former prisoners, will be a formidable challenge for European criminal justice systems in years to come. This development has consequences on many different levels. Staff are often frustrated at the lack of knowledge (and time to develop such knowledge) and available resources to work constructively with foreign nationals. Foreign national prisoners are frequently frustrated at the general uncertainty, discrimination, and racism they often experience, as well as the many everyday mundane problems resulting from their status as foreigners. In short, the rapid growth of foreign nationals in prison is creating all sorts of problems and frustrations on both sides of the table across Europe. No wonder then, that the foreign national prisoners – in a not-so-distant past appropriately characterized as ‘forgotten prisoners’ (Prison Reform Trust 2004; Kalmthout, van der Meulen and Dünkel, 2007; Bhui 2009) – increasingly are being placed at the top of the priority list.

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