A report on Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre by the Chief Inspector of Prisons raises a number of issues regarding the care and conditions of the detention centre. The report summary states 'the centre should never have been allowed to reach this state'.
The inspection found that a number of the recommendations from a 2013 inspection had not been actioned and some of the 'issues' raised had in fact worsened.
One of the most alarming instances includes the prolonged use of detention. Well over half of men were detained in the centre for over a month, eighteen detainees had been held for over one year and one man had been detained on a number of occasions totalling five years. The report recommends that there should be a time limit on detention. In criminal matters there are strict time limits on detention but this same protection is not afforded in immigration detention where many detainees have not even been charged with any crime. Chapter 55 of the Home Office Enforcement Instructions and Guidance states that detention should only be used sparingly and for the shortest period necessary. The figures from this report, detailing instances from just one removal centre, suggests that this is not the case. Detention Action also highlight that in many instances detention is indefinite and they call for an end to this practice.
Other key concerns in the report include:
·The vulnerability of the detainee population since the last inspection appears to have increased with more detainees reporting feeling unsafe or victimized;
·The use of segregation did not always appear to be justified or properly authorised and there were instances of restraints being applied without justification;
·Many toilets and showers were 'in a seriously insanitary condition and many rooms were overcrowded and poorly ventilated', stating that rooms intended for two were being used by four detainees;
·Detainees under 18 years of age were not always being assessed in accordance with government guidelines and were being provided with inappropriate accommodation;
·Support for detainees with disabilities was poor and severe mobility needs were not being met; and
·Reception interviews were not conducted in private and often lacked adequate interpreting, both of which are particularly alarming given that it is expected that a number of detainees will have difficulties in communicating.
The above remains all the more alarming considering the Free Movement blog on the report highlighting that detention has continued to increase and is at its highest level yet.
There were some improvements in the use of Rule 35 reports, which are reports from doctors to identify instances of torture and vulnerability, however they were inconsistent in their quality. They did appear now to be used in some instances for concluding detention was not justified, which is an improvement on when they were not considered to assist in assessing the appropriateness of detention.
The centre has been praised for substantially improving preparation for release and removal as well as for engaging with third sector agencies such as Detention Action. There was considered to be good access to most means of communication however the restriction on detainees accessing social media or Skype was considered to be disproportionate.
The report recognises that part of the problem appears to have stemmed from uncertainty over the contract for running the detention centre resulting in a drop in investment (the contract is outsourced by the government). The Chief Inspector of Prisons recommends commissioning a review of the contract performance. The Home Office confirmed that a new set of principles was being used to prevent this from happening again.
For those in detention we strongly recommend seeking legal advice at the earliest opportunity to ensure that any detention is justified and lawful, as well as to discuss options for evidencing or regularising immigration status. For those with an uncertain immigration status we also recommend seeking legal advice to discuss options on regularising stay or facilitating leaving the UK voluntarily if preferred, and ultimately to prevent detention where possible.