Mental health a ‘huge concern’ at Yarl’s Wood, says IMB

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for Yarl’s Wood publishes its Annual Report for 2015 today (following an embargo for the EU Referendum). The IMB describes mental health as being “a matter of huge concern”. During 2015, 13 women were sectioned and transferred from Yarl’s Wood to a secure facility, after what the watchdog describes as difficult and disturbing stays, often in the unsuitable confines of the separation unit. Earlier this year, Professor Mary Bosworth of the Oxford Law Faculty, was asked by Stephen Shaw to review mental health literature around immigration detention. She concluded that detention is of itself damaging to mental health and contributes to vulnerability. The IMB says that its experience, gleaned from the women they meet over many visits, tends to bear this out.

The IMB is also critical of the length of time women are detained at Yarl’s Wood, with 10 women having been detained for more than a year. They call once again for a maximum time limit for immigration detention, a move rejected by the Government, pointing out in addition that only 19% of detainees leaving Yarl’s Wood in 2015 were actually removed from the UK.

The detention of pregnant women has long been a matter of concern for the IMB, and this report is once again critical of Home Office implementation of its policy in this area. It also highlights difficulties in obtaining official audited figures about the numbers of pregnant women detained. Since the report was written, the Home Office has announced a change in policy, with a maximum period of 72 hours for detention of pregnant women introduced in the Immigration Act 2016, a move the IMB welcomes.

Echoing the findings of other bodies, particularly HMIP, the IMB draws attention to staff shortages at Yarl’s Wood following the implementation of the new Serco contract in April 2015, and the impact of these on detainees. They also recommend an increase in the proportion of female staff to look after the vulnerable women at Yarl’s Wood, while acknowledging efforts made by Serco to recruit more female officers. The Healthcare department is also a matter of concern, although important improvements are noted by the monitoring body.