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How Many Immigrants Are in UK Prisons?

The immigrant prison population in the United Kingdom refers to inmates who were not born as UK citizens. Estimates indicate 12-13% of prisoners in England and Wales are foreign-born immigrants. This equates to around 10,000-11,000 non-citizens out of the 80,000+ UK prison population.

Overview of Immigrant Inmates in the UK

The term “immigrant inmates” encompasses prisoners from a wide range of background and nationalities. Key facts include:

  • Includes foreign-born individuals as well as illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.
  • Significant populations from Poland, Ireland, Jamaica, Romania and Lithuania.
  • Most common offenses include drugs, violence, fraud, robbery, and sexual crimes.
  • Average age is younger than UK citizen prisoners.
  • Typical sentences range from several months to a few years.
  • Most housed in high security or category C prisons.

Immigrant prisoners often face challenges such as language barriers, lack of local family support, and threat of deportation after sentence completion. Cultural differences and racism can also contribute to more difficult experiences while incarcerated.

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Estimated Number of Immigrant Prisoners

Recent population statistics indicate that around 12-13% of prisoners in England and Wales are immigrants. This equates to:

  • 10,000-11,000 immigrants – Based on the current prison population of over 80,000 as of 2020.
  • 1 in 8 prisoners – Around 12-13% of the total inmate population.

These figures have been consistent over the past decade, even as the overall prison population has fluctuated. They suggest that approximately 1 out of every 8 prisoners is a non-UK citizen immigrant.

However, the immigrant inmate population across Scotland and Northern Ireland is significantly lower at just 5-6% of prisoners. Different immigration demographics contribute to this variance.

Breakdown by Nationality of Immigrant Prisoners

The latest available figures from 2020 show the top nationalities making up the immigrant prison population in England and Wales:

  • Poland: Approx 9% of immigrant prisoners
  • Ireland: Approx 8%
  • Jamaica: Approx 8%
  • Romania: Approx 7%
  • Lithuania: Approx 5%
  • India: Approx 5%
  • Pakistan: Approx 5%
  • Albania: Approx 4%
  • Somalia: Approx 3%
  • Portugal: Approx 3%

The remainder includes inmates from over 150 other nations in smaller numbers, including European, African, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries.

Polish prisoners account for the most substantial population due to high rates of immigration to the UK from Poland.

Comparison to General UK Population

When comparing the percentage of immigrants in UK prisons to the overall population, some key observations emerge:

  • Immigrants make up 13% of prisoners but only 7% of the general population.
  • This indicates immigrants are disproportionately incarcerated compared to native UK citizens.
  • However, experts attribute this more to socioeconomic factors than any inherent criminality of immigrants.
  • Low income, lack of opportunity, language barriers, and cultural isolation contribute to heightened risks of criminality.
  • With proper social support, criminality rates among immigrants can likely form a closer parallel to natives over time.
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Changes in Immigrant Inmate Population Since 2010

The immigrant prisoner population has remained relatively stable at 12-13% for the past decade in England and Wales. However, some small shifts have occurred in the national makeup:

  • 2010: Romania and Lithuania were less represented, while Jamaicans were the largest foreign group.
  • 2015: Saw a rise in Romanians which has stabilized as the largest European immigrant group.
  • 2020: Poland took over as the most common nationality due to high Polish immigration into the UK.
  • Overall populations from South Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe have grown slightly.

The increases mirror broader UK immigration patterns over the past decade. But they have balanced out, keeping pace with the changing overall prisoner demographics.

Experiences and Challenges of Immigrant Inmates

Immigrant inmates often face a tougher time in UK prisons than native citizens. Key challenges include:

  • Language barriers – especially for newer immigrants with limited English.
  • Lack of visits and local family support networks.
  • Unfamiliarity with UK culture, prison system, rules and slang.
  • Targets of racism, microaggressions and violence from other prisoners.
  • Higher incidents of physical and mental health issues.
  • Concerns over potential deportation after serving sentence.

However, prisons also aim to provide multilingual staff, interpreters, translated materials and dedicated support programs to better serve the needs of immigrant inmates during their sentences.


In summary, current statistics indicate that around 10,000-11,000 prisoners or 12-13% of the total prison population in England and Wales are immigrants. This rate has remained steady over the past decade. The representation spans immigrants from over 150 nations, with Poland, Ireland and Jamaica having some of the highest numbers. While facing greater challenges, immigrant inmates form a significant minority bloc within the overall prisoner demographics in the UK penal system.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Immigrant Inmates in the UK

What percentage of prisoners in the UK are immigrants?

Approximately 12-13% of prisoners in England and Wales are immigrants. The figure is lower at 5-6% in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

What is the total estimated number of immigrant inmates?

Current estimates put the number around 10,000-11,000 non-citizen immigrant prisoners in the UK out of over 80,000 total.

Which nationalities have the highest representation?

Poland, Ireland, Jamaica, Romania, and Lithuania currently account for the most immigrant UK prisoners.

Has the immigrant prison population changed over time?

The percentages have remained stable at 12-13% for the past decade. The national makeup has shifted slightly toward Eastern Europeans.

Do immigrants commit more crimes than local citizens?

No – socioeconomic factors like poverty account for higher incarceration rates, rather than greater inherent criminality.

What kinds of crimes are immigrants most often jailed for?

Drug offenses, theft, robbery, fraud, assault, and sexual crimes are the most common.

Are most immigrant inmates housed in high security prisons?

Many end up classified as category B or C prisoners, so they are often housed in higher security closed prisons.

What special challenges do immigrant prisoners face?

Language barriers, lack of visits/support, racism, cultural unfamiliarity, higher health risks, and deportation concerns.

How can UK prisons better accommodate immigrant inmates?

Providing multilingual staff, translated materials, culturally appropriate support programs, and addressing racism.

Are male immigrants more likely to be jailed than females?

Yes, approximately 97% of immigrant prisoners in the UK are male compared to only 3% female.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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