• prison;
  • foreign national;
  • migration;
  • citizenship;
  • race


In the summer of 2009, the British government introduced a new policy for managing foreign nationals imprisoned in England and Wales. Dubbed hubs and spokes, that policy reorganises the penal estate, concentrating non-citizens in select prisons ‘embedded’ with full-time immigration staff. The policy also requires prison staff to identify foreign nationals to immigration authorities and obliges prisons to detain prisoners facing deportation beyond the length of their criminal sentences. This paper explores the effects of such an approach to foreign national prisoners. In particular, I examine how the effort to find the ‘foreigners’ in British penal institutions has affected the meaning of race behind bars. Drawing on a year of ethnographic fieldwork, I argue that the process of identifying foreign nationals is more piecemeal and political than it can seem from outside prison walls. In practice, the effort to find ‘foreigners’ depends on racialised assumptions about foreignness and British national belonging. These assumptions contrast with the fluid and highly personalised articulations of race and nation that circulate within the prison. I examine this contrast, asserting that the hubs and spokes policy remakes and racialises the concept of British citizenship. I also consider the new policy in the historical context of British colonialism. Ultimately, I assert that the government's approach to foreign national prisoners perpetuates amnesia about the politics of imprisoning ‘foreigners’. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.