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Inspector’s report finds little improvement in conditions for immigration detainees held in prison


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During March and April, HM Inspectorate of Prisons visited eight prisons and interviewed 45 immigration detainees and 33 staff, including Home Office staff. The subsequent report finds that immigration detainees held in prisons are substantially disadvantaged in several ways compared to individuals held in immigration removal centres. Disparities are particularly concerning in the following areas:

  • Safeguarding
  • Case progression
  • Access to legal representation
  • Prolonged administrative detention

The report highlights that:

“This disparity has day-to-day consequences for detainees, including feelings of confusion and hopelessness and a lack of access to much needed support. If detainees are unable to fairly access the legal process and their vulnerabilities are not monitored and addressed effectively, there is an increased risk that they will come to harm while in custody and that the integrity of the decision-making in their immigration cases will be undermined.”

A 2015 report drew together findings from 2013 to 2015, setting out the experiences of immigration detainees in prisons compared to those in immigration removal centres. Out of the seven recommendations given in 2015, only one has been “partially achieved” (see Appendix III): working with the Legal Aid Agency to provide a telephone advice service comparable to that offered in a removal centre’s detention advice surgeries.

So what hasn’t been achieved?

Immigration detainees are not only held in prison in very exceptional circumstances, following a risk assessment and with the authority of an immigration judge. There is also no strict time limit on the length of detention, or specific diligence and expedition from caseworkers. The report indicates that changes should be made.

“[T]he prolonged detention of people under immigration powers, especially when it is because of inefficiencies in Home Office case-working procedures, is inexcusable given that so many prisons are already overcrowded.”

Immigration detainees serving prison sentences are often given very little notice that they are subject to indefinite immigration detention. Many prisoners were served with detention paperwork just before or on their planned release date.

The risks surrounding the transfer of a detainee from prison to an immigration removal centre should be considered each month, but is not. And the memorandum of understanding between the National Offenders Management Service and the Home Office should have been amended to make it clear that only high-risk detainees should be held in prisons. Low-risk detainees should be swiftly transferred to an immigration detention centre. Where they are housed in prison, individuals should be afforded as much freedom as possible, with access to services and facilities comparable to those available in removal centres.

One of the most concerning findings in the report is that vulnerable immigration detainees held in prison, including torture victims, are not routinely identified or considered for release in the same way as individuals held in immigration removal centres. Not only is there a lack of understanding of the Adults at Risk in Detention policy, but there also seems to be a poor understanding of the National Referral Mechanism, the support system for victims of human trafficking. Prison rules should be amended to afford immigration detainees the same protections as Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules, which sets out the procedure for identifying and reporting vulnerable immigration detainees.

The report highlights the devastating consequences for those in immigration detention held in prisons rather than immigration removal centres. What’s more worrying is that little to no progress has been made on the majority of these issues for almost eight years.

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