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Albanians make up the largest foreign national group in UK jails, with more than 1,500 behind bars in England and Wales making up around 10 per cent of total inmates from overseas.
British and Albanian justice ministers Chris Philp and Etilda Gjonaj last week approved a prisoner transfer agreement that will allow offenders from either side to be sent back to their home countries to serve out their full sentences.
But Ms Gjonaj revealed in an interview with the west Balkan country’s media that the discussions also touched on the possibility of financial assistance from London to house returned felons – many of them convicted of involvement with criminal gangs active in drug-smuggling and people trafficking.
With very few UK nationals in Albanian prisons, the transfer of offenders is likely to be largely one-way, and Tirana is understood to be concerned about the additional financial burden that the arrangement could create.
Ms Gjonaj told an interviewer that British ministers “welcomed my proposal for the UK to build a prison in Albania or renovate an existing prison”.
Discussions are understood to be at an early stage, and the Ministry of Justice declined to confirm or deny whether the proposal was raised in last week’s talks.
But an offer of financial help would not be unprecedented.
In 2015, David Cameron offered Jamaica around £25m from the UK’s aid budget to part-fund a prison for offenders returned from Britain, though the deal was eventually rejected by the administration in Kingston. Since then, discussions have taken place with Nigeria about funding for a jail in Lagos, though again the proposal came to nothing.
Under the terms of last week’s agreement, Albanian authorities will have to foot the bill for housing returned offenders in its own jails, saving the UK taxpayer an average £44,600 per inmate.
Mr Philp, said: “We are committed to removing foreign criminals who have abused our hospitality and inflicted misery on our communities.
“Someone who commits a serious crime in the UK should be barred from returning so that the taxpayer no longer has to pay for them and victims can be confident justice has been done.”
No legislation is required to put the agreement into effect, and ministers expect transfers under the scheme to begin in the autumn.
Since January 2019, the UK has removed 7,985 foreign national offenders from prisons, immigration removal centres and the community.
The deal with Albania builds on an earlier agreement and means that offenders must spend at least the same amount of time in custody as they were sentenced to by a judge in the UK.
It also clarifies that prisoners can be transferred without their consent.