Delays plague convict deportations

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Foreigners convicted of crimes in Norway are supposed to be sent out of the country, but few actually are. Paperwork and other bureaucratic obstacles mean that most convict deportations are delayed by more than a year.

Prison authorities are having trouble deporting foreign convicts from cells like this at the new prison in Halden. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

Only 30 foreign criminals were deported last year to serve their prison terms in their homelands, reports newspaper Aftenposten. Another 25 have been sent out of Norway so far this year. Government officials who vowed to make convict deportations a priority admit they’re not satisfied.

“No, there are too few,” Pål K Lønseth, state secretary in the Justice Ministry, told Aftenposten. He said the state needs”to get better” at processing convict deportations at all levels, and to improve cooperation with the authorities in the foreign criminals homelands.

It now takes an average 476 days from the time of conviction until the convict is deported. Delays are blamed on the need to translate all documents related to the conviction, the need to obtain homeland acceptance of the prison term handed down to the convict, various court procedures and occasional rejection of a convict’s transfer.

Of the 3,696 persons currently serving time in Norwegian prisons, 1,122 are not Norwegian citizens. Around 150 were deemed “qualified” to be deported last year, but only 30 actually were.

Lønseth readily admits that it’s taking far too long to deport convicts, noting that “no one can be satisfied” with an average waiting time of 476 days. In some cases, the Norwegian prison terms are considered too short to warrant transfer, while the convicts themselves can resist transfer. Of the 30 sent out of Norway last year, 12 were deported under force. Others face deportation as soon as their sentences are completed.

Since Norwegian prisons aim to rehabilitate convicted criminals instead of simply punishing them, the state recognizes that “there’s no reason for us to use money to rehabilitate” foreign criminals who must leave Norway, said Lønseth. 

That’s been a problem at the recently opened and expensive prison in Halden, where convicts are given private rooms with their own bath, flat-screen TVs and a wide variety of educational and job-training programs. Many of the prisoners housed there last spring were foreign convicts, several of whom told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that they were living under much better circumstances in prison than they had been while free. 

Lønseth also is fully aware that Norway wants to use its prison space “for our own use,” that is, for Norwegian convicts. He claimed that efforts are ongoing to reduce delays of convict deportations.

“We have clear expectations that work towards getting the numbers up and the waiting time down will continue in 2011,” he told Aftenposten.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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