The policy of concentrating foreign national prisoners in a small number of prisons, away from home prisoners and from their families, implemented in the early summer of 2009 (read an IRR News story: ‘Segregating foreign national prisoners’), was conducted without regard to its impact on race equality or the provision of legal advice to those affected, and without telling the Prisons Inspectorate.
On 17 February 2010, in a legal challenge brought by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, the High Court condemned the way the policy was implemented. When the agreement to send all foreign national prisoners to a small number of specified prisons was reached between the Prison Service, the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and the UK Border Agency (UKBA), no race or equality impact assessment was performed, in breach of the bodies’ race and disability equality duties. No consideration was given, either, to the impact on the prisoners’ ability to obtain access to good quality legal advice on their immigration status, despite the fact that the purpose of the move was to facilitate deportation at the end of prisoners’ sentences.
Despite the court’s condemnation of the breach of the race and disability equality duties, judge Wyn Williams rejected the Commission’s argument that the breaches of the Race Relations Act and Disability Discrimination Act rendered the segregation policy fatally flawed, and refused to quash it, observing that a race and equality impact assessment was carried out retrospectively, which he held was better late than never.
Commenting on the judgment, Dame Anne Owers, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, revealed that her inspectorate had never been consulted about the policy, nor even notified about it, despite having expressed concerns in a 2006 report that the treatment of foreign national offenders focussed disproportionately on their deportation.
Dame Anne told IRR News: ‘I was astonished to find out, during an inspection in June last year, that this policy had not only been agreed, but had begun to be implemented, without any consultation with, or even information to, my inspectorate – even though we had produced two critical thematic reports about the management of foreign national prisoners. More importantly, no impact assessment in relation to race, ethnicity or disability had been done. I wrote to the Justice Minister and said that to construct an entire national policy without having carried out such an assessment appeared to be in breach of NOMS’ duties under equalities legislation. I understand that an impact assessment was then undertaken in July 2009.’