In the 2018 annual report independent monitors say that there are too many vulnerable people detained. While there have been some improvements during the year, concern still remains
Too many vulnerable people were detained during 2018, including those with pre-existing mental health concerns, whose mental health sharply deteriorated in detention. The indefinite nature of detention also caused great distress.
Those are among the findings of a report published today by the Independent Monitoring Boards, which monitor conditions and treatment in immigration detention. It draws together the conclusions of annual reports from Boards for 2018.
The report recognises some improvements over the year. The number of people in detention decreased, and there were fewer examples of excessive periods in detention. Conditions in removal centres improved, with an end to overcrowding and the closure or refurbishment of some poor accommodation.
However, the report also supports the findings of two parliamentary committees recommending a detention time limit, as Boards found that the open-ended nature of detention greatly added to detainees’ stress. Less than half of detentions (44%) led to removal from the UK in 2018, with the majority of detainees released on immigration bail, sometimes after lengthy periods of detention.
Boards have also criticised the over-use of restraints. At one point, over 90% of detainees from one centre were handcuffed for external appointments; after the IMB raised concerns, this significantly reduced. The use of waist restraint belts (belts with handcuffs attached) on removal charter flights has also reduced following IMB concerns, but the report still found examples of inappropriate use and a lack of continuous risk assessment or oversight.
Specific examples of treatment which caused IMBs concern include:
- At Tinsley House a man was detained for 11 months, despite being recognised as higher risk after a doctor had raised concerns under Home Office procedures that he could be a victim of torture. He self-harmed and was under constant supervision multiple times.
- At Yarl’s Wood, a young man with epilepsy and a learning disability whose health deteriorated as a result of the trauma and uncertainty of detention was released after the IMB and others raised concerns.
- At Morton Hall, there were 217 acts of self-harm, with a number of prolific self-harmers amongst the detainees, particularly in the second half of the year.
- Across just three centres (Yarl’s Wood, Heathrow and Brook House), 25 people were sectioned under the Mental Health Act during 2018.
- Inappropriate use of restraints during removal, for example after a simple statement of reluctance to leave, or on a man who was distressed but not argumentative or confrontational
- Concerns about the fairness of the process for detaining families and its effect upon children, particularly the traumatic effect of early morning arrests. The IMB has called for an independent system to monitor the arrest and transfer of families.
Areas of improvement recognised in the IMB report include:
- A reduction in the number of people held in detention during 2018 following the Windrush scandal.
- Fewer cases of unacceptably long periods in detention, although some men spent over two years detained, with a maximum of four and a half years.
- The introduction in January 2018 of automatic referral to a bail hearing after four months in detention for some detainees
- An end to the overcrowding experienced in some IRCs and some improvement to accommodation, including work to screen in-cell toilets
- The trialling of Skype to enable detainees to have better contact with family and friends: although this had mixed results, it showed a commitment to making video-calling facilities available to detainees in a way that would be attractive and useful for them.
Dame Anne Owers, National Chair of IMBs, said: “While some improvements have been made, sometimes in direct response to IMBs raising concerns, there are still serious concerns about the use and effect of immigration detention. Procedures for recognising and responding to vulnerability were not working consistently, and we will be continuing to monitor this over the coming year.”
Notes to Editors
- Every prison and immigration removal centre (IRC) in England and Wales has an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) made up of members of the public from the community in which the prison or IRC is situated. IMB members have access to all parts of the establishment they monitor and to all its records and can speak to any prisoner or detainee. They are unpaid public appointees who are appointed by in the Home Secretary. There are also IMBs for short-term holding facilities (STHFs) and a group of members who monitor charter flights to remove detainees.
- The Board is specifically charged to:
(1) satisfy itself as to the humane and just treatment of those held in the Centre.
(2) inform promptly the Secretary of State, or any official to whom he has delegated authority, as it judges appropriate, any concern it has.
(3) report annually to the Secretary of State on how far the establishment has met the standards and requirements placed on it and what impact these have on those held there
- Dame Anne Owers was appointed as IMB National Chair in November 2017. She was previously the Chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), (now the Independent Office for Police Conduct). Dame Anne was Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons between 2001 and 2010 and chaired a review of prisons in Northern Ireland from 2010 to 2011.
Media enquiries to Rachel Gyford, IMB Secretariat Communications Manager on 07889 410385.