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Chief Inspector of Prisons publishes reports on immigration short-term prisons

transmitter | 16.01.2007 15:12 | Migration | Repression | Birmingham | London

Today Anne Owers, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishes reports of unannounced inspections on four immigration short-term holding facilities (STHF) at Colnbrook near Heathrow Airport, Reliance House and John Lennon Airport, Liverpool and Sandford House, Solihull.

Below are quotes and extracts NCADC has taken from the reports.

Colnbrook Short Term Holding Facility
Operated by : Serco
Inspection : May 2006

Detainees locked up most of the time in rooms "reminiscent of a prison cell"
The design of Colnbrook Short Term Holding Facility (STHF) "Its
design resembled a prison or police station". It consists of 40
single rooms that are "reminiscent of a prison cell". Male and
female detainees remained locked in single rooms for unacceptably
long periods and can be held for up to five days, or seven if removal
was imminent.

Only 6% of detainees said they had had a legal visit at Colnbrook
"Staff said that detainees found it difficult to get legal advice.
Most did not have a legal adviser and some who did said they had
parted with large sums of money to no good effect or that advisers
were reluctant to help now that they were detained and unlikely to be
able to pay any more. Only 6% of respondents to our survey said they
had had a legal visit at Colnbrook."

Aggravated Anxiety
"For detainees, lack of access to legal advice, sometimes through
successive places of detention, aggravated anxiety"

Suicide risk
Aggravated anxiety seems to lead to a suicide risk, which is
reflected by the fact that "Anyone deemed at risk was checked at
varying intervals and at least every 15 minutes" and that "Three
officers on each shift were required to carry a ligature knife and a
further knife was held in the staff office."

Detainees arrive with only the clothes they were wearing
"People detained unexpectedly often arrived with only the clothes
they were wearing and might not have changed for a couple of days if
they had previously been held in another STHF or a police station."

Detained in four different places in seven days
"One young man held during the inspection had been in four different
places in seven days. He had initially been detained in the police
station where he reported regularly. He had then been moved to
another police station for two days before being transferred,
apparently between 2.45am and 4.30am, to Harmondsworth IRC. He had
arrived at Colnbrook STHF the day before the inspection and was due
to be removed the following day. Although he appeared an intelligent,
English-speaking young man, the number of moves had unsettled him and
increased his confusion about his situation and what he could do
about it."

Prison-issue plastic bags likely to arouse official curiosity on
arrival in home countries
"A number of detainees arrived from prisons and were due to be
deported within the next day or two. Some had all their possessions
tied up in large clearly marked prison-issue plastic bags that were
likely to arouse public and official curiosity on arrival in their
home countries. The bags did not appear particularly robust. One
detainee arrived still wearing his standard prison issue clothing.
... Staff and detainees expressed their concern that the property of
detainees who were initially lodged in police stations often got left
behind when they were transferred. Anyone about to be removed had
little chance of recovering it in time. Police custody records,
including property sheets that would have helped to arrange recovery,
were rarely attached to the documentation accompanying detainees."

Immigration in such a mess that staff rely on the detainee to give
them details of their case
"They [Immigration staff] often had to rely on the detainee to give
them details of their case, and any queries to caseholder offices
were answered only during office hours even though removals took
place at any time of the day or night. Removal directions were
regularly faxed through to the immigration office but often arrived
after staff had left."

Reliance House, Liverpool
Sandford House, Solihull, West Midlands
John Lennon Airport, Liverpool
Operated by : Group 4 Securicor (G4S)
Inspections : February - June 2006

All can and did hold children and families for short periods.
Indeed, children were a significant proportion of the population at
two of the centres.

No healthcare provider

No fire evacuation information to inform detainees

No independent monitoring body conducted regular visits

No disability policy or designated disabilities officer

Lack of legal advice
There was a general, if unfounded, expectation that detainees in
short-term holding facilities could wait until they were transferred
to immigration removal centres to seek legal advice. However, many
passed successive days in shortterm holding facilities, including
police stations, before reaching a removal centre and some had
removal directions within a day or two.

Reliance House
During the previous three months, 94 men, 40 women and 21 children
had been held. During the inspection, we saw a mother and child
detained at home, another mother and child and a single man brought
from the reporting centre, and two single women brought from the
asylum screening unit.

If no bed could be found within the immigration detention estate or
if no transport arrived, people were moved to a police station in the

Escort staff told us that it was sometimes difficult to stop for a
comfort break during the long drive from Liverpool to removal centres
in the south. If they were not passing another detention centre,
escorts normally relied on police stations but police were reluctant
to admit children.

The [toilet] doors were a foot clear of the floor allowing custody
staff to monitor movement inside. However, their position within the
main room, which might be occupied by a mixture of people, and the
lack of male/female designation, ventilation and privacy would have
made it uncomfortable for many detainees.

Man banging his head on the floor, forcibly restrained, not seen by a medic
A man banging his head on the floor had had to be forcibly
restrained. He was transferred to an immigration removal centre but
had not been seen first by a qualified medical practitioner.

14 year-old child struggling to get evidence considered
The mother detained with her son that morning relied on her son to
speak for her even when the inspection team used an interpreting
service. This added to the child's stress and he was struggling to
cope. They showed us some apparently official original documents from
their home country. The son explained that these had arrived late and
that he had sent copies to the Home Office. He did not know whether
they had been considered. They had no current solicitor and the onus
of pressing for clarification appeared to be on this 14 year-old
child. We suggested that caseworkers on site should respond to the
query but they were reluctant to intervene, stating that the
documents had either probably been considered or no longer mattered
since the asylum claim had been rejected. Another said they could
only consider material submitted by a solicitor. Apart from being
erroneous, this put the onus back on the child.

... some IND staff seemed unaware of any particular duty of care
towards detained children beyond not holding too many for too long.

Sandford House
A large IND notice advising immigration advisers of a 'future'
requirement to register as legal services providers was several years
out of date and served no useful purpose as no legal advisers entered
the room

They did not normally use an interpreting service but used sign language.

No rules for the facility were available to detainees in the holding
room. Staff explained the basic rules on arrival if the detainee
understood English.

No complaints had been made since the facility opened. A notice in
the holding room explained how detainees could complain but was in
English only and detainees had to ask staff for a complaints form.

Single women and families with children were held in the same room as
single male detainees

Staff working in the unit, both of whom had been employed by the
contractor for some years, did not think they had yet been vetted to
Criminal Records Bureau enhanced level and had not had any childcare
training. There was no nominated child protection coordinator for the
holding room in the building.

G4S priorities revealed
"Officers were trained in the use of control and restraint and were
refreshed annually" yet "Initial training for officers included race
relations but there had been no refresher training and one officer
had last been trained ten years before"

John Lennon Airport
Families with children were occasionally held in the small holding
room with other single adult detainees

Staff had not had any childcare training. Staff were unaware of any
nominated child protection coordinator for the holding room.

Detainees with the right change or a telephone card, which arriving
passengers would not usually have, could use the payphone to contact
a legal adviser.

Further Information
For an electronic copy of the report, or to request an interview with
Anne Owers, please call 020 7035 3850.

Please note : NCADC does not know why these reports have only just
been published even though the inspections took place between
February and June 2006. So, please do not ask NCADC - please direct
your queries directly to the Chief Inspector of Prisons.