Detention in Prison

Use of prisons to hold detainees

As well as a huge number of detention facilities, the UK also currently holds immigration detainees in prisons. They are foreign nationals who have served their sentence, but remain held in prison under the administrative procedures of Immigration Acts, awaiting deportation.

Being detained in prison is even more difficult than in a detention centre as there is far less information, external supports may be few and far between, and there is no access to the internet or a mobile phone to research your case or phone a solicitor. We regularly hear from detainees in prison who don’t have a solicitor or have any information on how to find one, and who feel ‘in limbo’ with no one to ask for help. Unfortunately some of the longest cases of detention involve foreign nationals held post sentence.

While the exact numbers of immigration detainees in prisons each month are not published, it is currently usually around 400 - 450. In 2013 this was increased to around 1,000 – an additional 25% of the detained population – but this has gone down again. AVID and our partners are pushing for greater accountability on these figures.

Where are they?

There are no regular statistics produced on detention in prison, unlike in detention facilities. Occasionally we can find out some information through Freedom of Information requests or Parliamentary Questions. Detainees regularly contact AVID to ask for help from prisons, unfortunately there are very few visitors groups in mainstream prisons. If you are interested in helping to set one up, do get in touch.

"Here in prison it’s hard to communicate and make phone calls when I tried to call the embassy no answer or response to make my deportation easier to the Home Office. I have no family ties in the UK or even a solicitor to help my case. I need help and advice”

Detainee in prison, 2013

Prisons: inappropriate places to hold immigration detainees

AVID believes that prisons are inappropriate facilities in which to hold immigration detainees. Being held in the prison estate means you will face many additional barriers to accessing justice, to contacting friends and family, or to seeking release. It is also controversial internationally: the use of prisons to hold migrants is contrary to the EU Returns Directive which states that detention of migrants should be in specially designated detention facilities. It has also been criticised by the UNHCR, whose guidelines on detention state that prisons and jails should be ‘avoided’; immigration detention should not be punitive. While UK guidance states that immigration detainees should be treated as remand prisoners in prison, our experience is that this is rarely the case.  

Help and information

Unfortunately there is very little targeted support for immigration detainees in prisons. Some AVID visitors groups visit in prisons (visit here for details) and we are always looking to engage with interested volunteers in new communities who may be able to help.

  • Bail for Immigration Detainees has a dedicated prisons legal team and regularly produce materials to help those detained in prison.

  • Clink's Directories contains information about over 800 organisations and projects working with people with experience of the criminal justice system and their families. Enter a place name, organisation, or use the search filters provided to find the service you need.

  • Prison Reform Trust has produced this leaflet which helps explain what immigration detainees are entitled to and what rights they have.

  • Hibiscus can provide help to foreign national female prisoners

  • Prisoners Advice Service provides independent legal advice to prisoners and this does include foreign nationals. 

“I have been detained for 5 months and nobody has even thought of me or visited me”