Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre is failing to provide a
safe and stable environment for the detainees held there, despite
the best efforts of staff, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons
Anne Owers said today.
Publishing a report on an inspection of the removal centre at Heathrow,
Anne Owers said:
"In spite of some extremely conscientious work by staff and managers,
the diversity and constant flux of the population, low staffing levels
and the physical environment made Harmondsworth essentially an unsafe
place for both staff and detainees. This was reflected in increasing
levels of disorder, damage and escape attempts.
"Many of the systematic problems that detainees experienced at
Harmondsworth have already been covered in the Inspectorate's six
previous removal centre reports, and need to be addressed centrally.
"These include: the inability of the Immigration Service to progress
cases efficiently or communicate effectively with detainees; the absence
of sufficient competent legal advice and representation; the need
for independent welfare advice to assist detainees to deal with practical
problems during detention and on removal; and the need for more activities
for detainees, including the ability to work.
"We commend the fact that Harmondsworth had made considerable
efforts to provide a good range of activities, enough for about a
third of the adults held there. However, there were specific aspects
of Harmondsworth regime that caused the Inspectorate particular concern".
There were increasing levels of disorder, damage and escape attempts,
with an average of seven assaults a week. In spite of an average of
one self-harm incident a week, suicide, self-harm and anti-bullying
procedures were not effectively managed. Nor was there sufficient
> mental health support for detainees held in the in-patient ward.
The report acknowledges that some of the failure to create a safe
environment was undoubtedly the result of the actions of a few of
the detainees, whose cases had reached the end, who had no incentive
to co-operate with other detainees or the centre authorities during
their short stay, and who had taken part in vandalism or arson.
Though staff responded swiftly to individual incidents, the centre
as a whole was not well-equipped to ensure detainees' protection.
Staffing levels were low, there was no means of locking down the centre
in the event of concerted indiscipline, and no health and safety assessments
of the risks to detainees had been carried out.
The volume of movement in and out of reception had not been predicted
and was not administered effectively. Some detainees arrived without
papers and waited in vans for hours. There was no preparation for
release, removal or transfer. Of particular concern was the fact that
there had been several cases of reported injuries sustained by detainees
during failed removals, while in the care of the escort contractor.
Inspectors were told that allegations of assault were not always fully
investigated; and recommend a protocol for action.
There were 25 children in Harmondsworth at the time of the inspection,
and they were held in a separate family unit. Staff had a child-centred
approach and good child protection procedures were in place. However,
the report found staffing levels in the unit were too low to ensure
security and provide practical help to children and families. In spite
of some good teaching, the educational, recreational or developmental
needs of children could not be met for anything except a short period.
Concluding Anne Owers said:
"Harmondsworth, when we inspected it, did not meet three of our
four tests for a healthy custodial environment. We make recommendations
for improvements within the centre. However, we also consider that
there are measures that the immigration authorities should take to
reduce the constant pressure of movement that is a major contributor
to the centre's instability and insecurity.
"In particular, we suggest that there should be separate facilities
for those who are simply awaiting the next flight out, and whose arrival
and departure place great stress upon the centre and its staff."
NOTE TO EDITORS
1. This was the first full inspection of Harmondsworth since it opened
in September 2001. Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre holds
those detained by the Immigration Service as overstayers, illegal
entrants or failed asylum seekers prior to their removal from the
country. It also holds a smaller proportion of detainees whose cases
have not yet been determined, but who are considered to be at risk
of absconding or whose identities are being established.
2. The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 conferred on the Chief Inspector
of Prisons the responsibility for the inspection of detention centres
(now renamed removal centres) in England, Wales and Scotland. Prior
to this, any inspection of detention centres took place by invitation
of the Secretary of State. Following the introduction of the Detention
Centre Rules 2001, it was decided to carry out full inspections of
all the detention centres in the UK and to publish some comparative
findings. Five centres were originally inspected, followed by the
inspection of the last remaining two, Harmondsworth and Dungavel,
in order for strategic recommendations to be informed by an examination
of the whole estate.
3. Prison Inspectorate reports and press releases are available from