Last week the Chief Inspector of Prisons published a follow-up report on conditions at Lindholme Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), near Doncaster.
The report, based on the findings of an unannounced inspection in January of this year, sounded some positive notes in its findings, particularly in relation to staff attitudes, but raised a number of important and worrying criticisms also.
Defenders of the IRC’s record have pointed to the present economic climate in defence against the findings that “the general quality of the accommodation remain[s] poor”.
Nonetheless a many of the most worrying criticisms made in the report do not relate to the physical condition of the estate and would not require significant expenditures to rectify. To give the Prison Service its due, a number of trenchant criticisms levelled implicate not the Prison Service, but the UKBA, G4S (the firm contracted to escort detainees) and the arrangements of Legal Services Commission.
The Inspectorate made criticisms of the Immigration Removal Centre that covered numerous areas, but, from the perspective of PAFRAS, four specific areas of concern stand out, all of which relate to fundamental detainee human rights.
‘RULE 35’ REPORTS
Of key concern is the implementation of Detention Centre Rule 35, which requires centres to report to the UKBA “any detained person whose health is likely to be injuriously affected by continued detention or any conditions of detention.” This should be done where a detainee indicates that they fall into this category or where, on examination, medical staff at the centre believe they do. Rule 35 reports should be completed by a doctor should and sent to the UKBA Contract Management Team based at the centre. A copy should be placed on the individual’s medical record.
In their 2009 Inspection of Lindholme the Inspectorate noted that, even when they were correctly completed and filed, these reports are not always properly considered by UKBA caseworkers. They noted a potential improvement in that the Centre had introduced a log to record UKBA responses to Rule 35 reports.
Worryingly, the current report seems to indicate fresh problems at the centre, recording that that Rule 35 reports “were poor and not written by a doctor, as required by the detention centre rules”. They went on to note that “[i]n the examples we examined, the reports comprised only a couple of sentences written by a nurse. They were not typed and some were difficult to read.” Additionally, inspectors observed that there has been a significant, unexplained, reduction in the number of Rule 35 Reports being made at all. The UKBA’s continuing failure to respond to Rule 35 Reports promptly and in a reasoned fashion was also criticised.
DETAINEE PRIVACY AND SAFETY
The failure of procedures at the Centre to respect detainees’ privacy (with important implications for safety also) was highlighted as a cause for concern in the report. This is exemplified by the failure to use professional interpreting services when conducting first night assessments and room sharing risk assessments on the arrival of a detainee. These assessments were conducted (generally) in English and within earshot of other detainees. The Inspectorate noted that use of professional interpreting services at the Centre was minimal (p.19).
Similar criticisms were also levelled at UKBA Contract Management staff who, the Inspectorate noted, used detainees to interpret even when imparting important and sometimes sensitive information. Inspectors found that Contract Management Staff had used professional interpreters on only eleven occasions in three months – something which it is difficult to imagine could possibility be justified given the numbers of detainees held there (circa 120).
The Inspectorate further criticised the Centre for failing to properly record complains of maltreatment made by detainees arriving at the centre against their escorts from the private security firm G4S.
G4S made the headlines in October last year after a refused asylum seeker died while being restrained by it’s employees on a scheduled flight about to leave London Heathrow airport for Luanda, Angola.
Recent news reports suggest that the Metropolitan Police Service is considering recommending to the CPS that the company face corporate manslaughter charges. This comes after four whistle-blowers who testified before the Home Affairs Select Committee indicated that they had repeatedly warned senior executives that detainees lives were being put in danger by practices within the company.
Shortly after the death of Mr Mubenga, G4S was informed by the UKBA that it had lost it’s contract to escort immigration detainees. The Home Office stressed that his death was not a factor in the decision which had in fact been made during the summer. Indeed, the Guardian newspaper reports that, under European employment regulations, Reliance, the new contractor, has been compelled to offer employment to all G4S staff involved in removals.
In their report, the Inspectorate raised their concern at the failure of the Centre to check records made by G4S on journey times and comfort breaks. Inspectors were further alarmed by the failure to record detainees’ experiences of being escorted or even to provide a comments book for them to fill in, despite these measure having been recommended after their last visit. Such measure seem particularly salient both given the terrible experience of Mr Mubenga and because of detainee reports to Inspectors of mistreatment by G4S escorts.
ACCESS TO JUSTICE
Finally, the Inspectorate’s report was critical of the Centre’s failure to provide facilities that would allow detainees to print letters and other materials, noting that this could impact on their ability to access justice (e.g. by stopping them writing to the Home Office, gathering evidence or instructing their solicitor). In this area, the Inspectorate reserved the strongest criticism here for the Legal Services Commission, noting that the arrangements for legal surgeries at the centre (and by implication at other centres also) were inadequate for lawyers to take full instructions.
The UKBA came in for heavy criticism in a number of areas in addition to those already mentioned. First amongst these was a criticism of the practice of making numerous short interim transfers of detainees between centres. The Inspectorate found that a quarter of detainees had been moved frequently between establishments and that the reasoning behind such moves was unclear. In one case that they highlighted an individual was moved between centres eight times in half as many months.
PAFRAS is extremely concerned that vulnerable asylum seekers who have fled torture and persecution in their home countries should be imprisoned at all in the UK. We are especially worried Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ findings that there are serious failings at Lindholme in implementing procedures relating to the well-being of victim of torture and others who are especially vulnerable and liable to be seriously harmed buy the experience of detention (i.e. Rule 35).
While reports of the UKBA’s failure to respond to Rule 35 Reports in a timely and reasoned fashion are, as always shocking, they do not come as a great surprise, given our knowledge of the experiences of asylum applicants when dealing with the UKBA more generally.
The failure of both detention centre and UKBA staff to ensure detainees’ privacy and full understanding of important and sensitive information imparted by them (by conducting interviews and briefings in private and the use of professional interpreting services) is nothing short of shocking.