WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
July 13 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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‘Decrepit’ and ‘truly shocking’ conditions found at Europe’s largest immigration removal centre

‘Decrepit’ and ‘truly shocking’ conditions found at Europe’s largest immigration removal centre

This article is from the Justice in a Time of Austerity series

A prison watchdog report found ‘decrepit’ conditions at Harmondsworth immigration removal centre (IRC), along with widespread violence, drug use, and numerous suicide attempts by detainees. Nearly two-thirds of individuals held there said they had felt unsafe in the centre, and almost half of those surveyed by the inspectorate said they were suicidal.

The number of assaults were found to have doubled since the previous inspection in 2017, and drug usage, which is usually rare in IRCs, had become widespread. Inspectors reported unmonitored, open consumption of cannabis in communal areas, while staff kept themselves in offices taped with ‘do not enter’ messages on their doors.

Other findings include internal complications in recruiting and maintaining permanent senior staff amid ongoing ambiguous contracts, which has been a persistent problem for at least a year. Even where senior staff members were hired, their positions would tend to only last for a short period.

Additional reported failures include population pressures, where Harmondsworth IRC had doubled up cells to hold more men. Those who refused to share a room after two days were forced into a separation unit and kept there by a team in full personal protective equipment until they agreed to share. Only those at risk of serious harm were exempted from this treatment.

However, the ‘truly shocking’ conditions at Harmondsworth left inspectors ‘deeply concerned’ for the more vulnerable population. This included 20 detainees, who were assessed as being at the highest level of imminent risk of harm, according to the Home Office Adults at Risk policy.

In a statement, Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons said: ‘Nobody should be detained in an immigration removal centre unless they are going to be removed quickly from the country, yet around 60% of detainees were released from the centre, with only a third deported, which begs the question of why so much taxpayer money was being spent keeping them locked up in the first place.’

Despite repeated recommendations from previous investigations, at the time of the inspection, Harmondsworth IRC had not removed ligature points or potential areas for self-harm.

Significantly, Taylor said the new director of the centre, run by Mitie Care and Custody, understood the challenges faced by Harmondsworth and was starting to gradually improve the treatment of detainees. However, he cautioned that the new director will need ‘strong and consistent support at every level to succeed.’

The Harmondsworth immigration removal centre, which is near London Heathrow Airport, holds individuals awaiting a resolution of their immigration status. Legally, detention should be used sparingly, and for a short period.  The Harmondsworth IRC had a population of 454 at the time of the HM Inspectorate of Prisons inspection between the 12th to 29th February with the average length of detention being at least 75 days.

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for England and Wales (HMI) is an independent body that inspects places of detention and publishes its findings to promote accountability and transparency.

 

 

 

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