Chief inspector: regime at immigration removal centre is ‘poorest’ ever

Chief inspector of prisons Anne Owers has today described an inspection report
 into Harmondsworth as the poorest ever issued on an immigration removal centre.

Inspectors criticised the over emphasis on physical security and control and highlighted the high use of force and use of temporary confinement in segregated conditions. The incentive scheme operated as a punishment system and detainees were sometimes deprived of basic entitlements, such as attending religious services.

Over 60 per cent of detainees said they felt unsafe and detainees described custody officers as “aggressive”, “intimidating” and “unhelpful”.

Anne Owers said: “This is undoubtedly the poorest report we have issued on an IRC. Harmondsworth is not an easy place to run, and the serious disturbance it had experienced had clearly affected the confidence of managers and staff.

“However, it had been allowed to slip into a culture and approach which was wholly at odds with its stated purpose, and inimical to the proper care and treatment of detainees,” she added.

There had been a major disturbance and an apparently self-inflicted death over recent years.

Inspectors also found:

  • suicide and self-harm work was weak
  • appropriate action had not been taken in response to problems identified by an inquiry into a self-inflicted death
  • the complaints system was distrusted and ineffective

The report did however praise the work of the education and chaplaincy staff and highlighted that some healthcare provision was good, even though there was insufficient nursing and mental health support.

Anna Reisenberger, acting chief executive of the Refugee Council said: “We are shocked to read this damning report about Harmondsworth, particularly as we, along with many other bodies, have been telling the Home Office for some time that it is the worst of the detention centres.”

“It is worrying to say the least that 60% of clients feel unsafe in Harmondsworth and frankly horrifying that nearly half feel they are victimised by the staff.

“The praise given to officers in the education department shows that clients give credit where it’s due – so there’s an urgent need to ensure that other staff in the centre learn from their colleagues and treat people better than they do at present. Asylum seekers are not criminals; they are people who are vulnerable and scared. Their treatment should reflect that.

“Anne Owers states that there is too much emphasis on security, control and punishment in Harmondsworth. This points to a wider problem with detaining asylum seekers. To all intents and purposes, these detention centres are prisons.

“Whatever is done to improve these places doesn’t alter that fact. We should question whether there is any need to lock up people who’ve committed no crime and who cause no harm to the wider community.”

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