Thursday, 9 July 2009

A British Prison in Nigeria?

Note: I'm going to be away for a week or so, so don't expect any posts until next saturday at the earliest.

The government has announced that it is in negotiations with the Nigerian government over proposals to upgrade the prison infrastructure in that country to allow them to forcibly transfer around 400 prisoners back to Nigeria.
The current UK prison service policy is to offer foreign national prisoners a transfer back to their country of origin where a treaty for such a course of action exists with that country. Such prisoners would then serve out the remainder of their sentences in their country of origin. However, given the appaling prison conditions in many countries around the world it is somewhat unsuprising that many imprisoned foreign nationals do not take up this offer. Even with the governments Facilitated Returns Scheme, with the 'incentive' of giving prisons who opt for a transfer £46 in cash (the equivalent of the amount that all prisoners receive upon release from prison to pay for any immediate needs) has not upped the return rate significantly.
The new plans are similar to a scheme that the prisons service has previously funded in Jamaica, where a prison was partially funded to help speed up prisoner transfers. In both Nigeria and Jamaica prison conditions are notoriously bad, Nigeria's prison system has been condemned by Amnesty International. Over 65% of those in Nigerian prisons have not being convicted of any crime, with waits of up to 10 years for a trial and as a result the prison system there is notoriously overcrowded.
The proportion of foreign nationals imprisoned within the UK prison system has grown largely over the past few decade or so, yet according to the Prison Reform Trust the overwhelming majority of these are first time offenders from some of the poorest countries in the world who have been convicted of drug trafficking. This means that rather than a wave of immigrant violence as some of the press have tried to paint these figures, the rise in foreign national prisoners is mostly down to increases in sentences handed out for drug related crimes, especially given that 4 in 10 male foreign nationals and 8 in 10 female foreign nationals in UK prisons have been convicted of drug offences.
In criminological theory, imprisonment is said to be justified on several grounds, either of incapacitation of those likely to commit crimes or of deterrence of people from committing future crimes. But it is not the people who are getting caught in these cases that are the serious criminals, those at the top of the drug cartels can simply sit back as the capture of another expendable mule means nothing to them. It is the criminological equivalent of chopping off the head of the weed but doing nothing about the roots.
A British funded prison will not do anything about the underlying problems within Nigerian society that lead people into the desperation of becoming drug mules, in particular the rape of the oil wealth by the Nigerian state and capitalist class which has led to poverty for the masses. Incidentally this is the same Nigerian government which has been backed by the British government despite widespread claims of fraud in the most recent national elections. So small are the hopes for even under this scheme convincing Nigerian prisoners to even transfer to a specifically built prison, as being proposed, that the government as part of the proposals is aiming to convince the Nigerian government to change its constitution to allow forcible prisoner transfers.
Schemes like this are only being proposed as a result of years of hiking up the prison sentences for crimes that are either trivial or are committed by those who would be unlikely to re-offend anyway as a repsonse to populist pressure for 'tough' action against crimes. Such prisoners are easily convicted and allow government bureaucrats to present figures that show they are 'winning the war on crime', yet do not tend to represent genuine steps towards seriously dealing with major crime problems. Removing the corrupt, theiving Nigerian ruling class and replacing them with democratic committees of workers and other oppressed layers and giving them control of the countries resources to alleviate the widespread poverty in the country would represent a serious step towards reducing the numbers of Nigerian drug traffickers, far more than any of the prison services schemes. But such a step would never be advocated by the UK government who rely on the Nigerian regime to support the interests of British capitalist companies in the country. Hence why only socialists can seriously solve the criminal justice crisis and under capitalism we see high crime rates and an escalating prison population.

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