Colnbrook immigration removal centre ("CIRC"), located next to Heathrow Airport in West London, has faced high levels of criticism since it first opened in 2004 as a detention facility for male detainees facing removal from the UK. Reports of detainees escaping from custody and a February 2016 investigation into the death of Moroccan detainee Amir Siman-Tov are two recent examples.
However, a recent report from the Chief Inspectorate of Prisons has concluded there have been significant improvements since its previous inspection in 2013.
The most notable development was the successful execution of a new policy that allowed detainees free flow movement around the centre, leading to significantly noticeable change in the atmosphere of the CIRC.
A further improvement was found in a more diligent application of Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules 2001, which lays out the requirements of medical practitioners and their roles in treating detainees. Rule 35 requires medical practitioners to produce detailed reports on individuals believed to be torture survivors or otherwise vulnerable persons and are relied on to ensure that CIRC benefit from appropriate medical advice when dealing with detainees at risk. The Inspectorate's report highlighted that Rule 35 was being successfully implemented and has been effective in its role in protecting detainees with these conditions. The report noted a substantial increase in the number of detainee releases since the 2013 inspection.
There has been additional focus placed on ensuring that detainees have better access to recreational activities and, although the reported noted that the range of education remains limited, the teaching and learning activities were found to be of a good standard. There was also a notable change in arranged visits to detainees, and access to technology and communication. Finally the welfare team was effective and did good work with a large number of detainees, receiving appropriate support from third sector agencies. Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that such improvements contributed to a calmer atmosphere, with relatively low levels of violence and reduced incidents of self-harm.
But while it was noted that such efforts had been made, Clarke's report also highlights a significant amount of work to be done following its' last inspection in 2009. The induction unit remains very poor and in need of refurbishment and the CIRC was described as gloomy, bleak and in many areas unclean (despite assurances from CIRC officials that plans that have already been put in place to improve this).
The report reveals several shortcomings when it comes to case management, in particular. Detainees are waiting up to 4 days for access to legal advice, with legal representatives spending very little time with them once detainees get access to them. During the inspection one representative saw 10 detainees in two and a half hours. Detainees are able to communicate with their lawyers through fax, phone and email, and have access to relevant legal websites and online country of origin information reports and the library stocks a reasonable range of legal textbooks. However, an apparent staffing shortage when it comes to legal representation was highlighted as an area of particular concern.
Questions were once again raised as to the length of time in which detainees were being held. While most detainees were held for short periods of time, the report noted over 20 detainees who had been held for periods of 12-24 months, 3 of whom were held for over two years and one for more than four and a half years, periods described as unacceptably long. There have been repeated calls for the implementation of fixed time limits in immigration detention, which were repeated by the Chief Inspector of Prisons again in the report:"There should be a strict time limit on the length of detention and caseworkers should act with diligence and expedition," Clarke said.
Alarmingly, chronic staffing shortage in Healthcare was also an area of concern, impacting on the quality, continuity and consistency of care. While care for those with severe mental health needs was generally good, they questioned whether people with such severe illnesses should be in immigration detention at all.
The report was critical of the use of force and its governance within the CIRC. During the course of the inspection, inspectors found an incident where the evidence from the CCTV did not accord with the written record of what was supposed to have happened. If this was not concerning enough, it transpired that the management of the centre were entirely unaware of the incident. At the conclusion of the inspection this incident was being investigated.
Recommendations were made on any areas that raised concern and plans have been put in place to ensure further improvement on the overall conditions of the Centre. Although much remains to be done ahead of the next inspection, it will be interesting to see whether the recommendations will be successfully implemented and whether improvements will be sustained and built upon at the CIRC.