The number of Eastern European prisoners in jails in the West Midlands and Staffordshire has risen by more than 70 per cent in the past year, it can be revealed today.
In 2013 there were 120 inmates who declared themselves as coming from one of 13 designated Eastern European countries, as opposed to 69 in 2012.
And prisoners from Romania topped the table with 43 inmates serving time in HMP Birmingham, HMP Featherstone, HMYOI Brinsford and HMP Oakwood last year – an increase of more than 25 per cent on 2012.
The Ministry of Justice statistics, obtained by the Express & Star through a Freedom of Information request, also revealed the number of Polish inmates has swollen by 125 per cent since 2009. At HMP Oakwood, which opened in April 2012, 27 Eastern European prisoners served time last year out of a total prison population of 1,587.
The number represents an increase of 22 on the figures from 2012.
And it was a similar story at HMP Featherstone, with 19 convicts from Eastern Europe taking up cells last year compared with just six in 2012. Crooks from Romania and Poland have been jailed in the region’s prisons for a variety of crimes, with theft, pick-pocketing and shop-lifting the most prevalent offences. But other more violent crimes are also recorded.
Eastern European prisoner numbers, including those on remand awaiting trial, have risen since 2004, when eight nations from the East were allowed into the EU, giving them free access to the UK. The Ministry of Justice says it costs around £30,000 to keep a prisoner in jail for a year.
Justice Minister Jeremy Wright has said more foreign prisoners must serve their sentences in their own countries, while the governments of Romania and Poland have agreed to prisoner transfers. This represents a shift in policy from previous years, where foreign criminals have been ordered to serve out their terms in the UK before being deported on release.
Ransford Fiti, spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, said: “Reducing the Foreign National Offenders (FNOs) population is a top priority for this Government and we are working hard to reduce the flow of FNOs into our prison system and increase the number of FNOs removed from the UK through Prisoner Transfer Agreements.
Meanwhile, West Midlands police and crime commissioner Bob Jones said there was no need to panic over the increase.
He said: “The increasing numbers of prisoners from Eastern Europe in our jails does not mean we are set for a crimewave from people who come from those areas.
“It is important to remember that although the figures show the number of people from Eastern Europe inprisoned in the West Midlands has risen, foreign nationals still remain a very small percentage of the overall prison population. From January 1 new legislation has afforded Bulgarians and Romanians the same rights to work in the UK as other citizens of the EU.
Mr Jones said: “There is currently no evidence to suggest any significant numbers of Romanians or Bulgarians have arrived in the UK since the new legislation came into force.
“So I don’t think there is any need for people to panic at the moment.”
Mr Jones said he feels West Midlands police have developed successful strategies to deal with criminals from Eastern Europe, including building up strong relationships with police forces in countries from the region. I think our response as a police force to the increasing numbers of Eastern Europeans in the region has been very effective,” he said.
“The work we have done with officers from countries like Latvia, Romania, Poland and Lithuania has helped us to increase our intelligence on the types of criminal we are dealing with and also assisted our own officers with cultural and language skills.”
In 2012 more than 3,600 foreign prisoners were sent back home to serve their sentences, a figure which is expected to show a marked increase when the 2013 statistics are revealed.
Mr Jones said he felt it was important for Eastern European prisoners to serve sentences in their own countries.