Looking at HMIP Report on Harmondsworth IRC

HMIP has released its report on its 2017 inspection of Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre.  The report finds limited and insufficient improvement since the previous inspection in 2015, and in some areas finds deterioration. The inspection highlights considerable failings in the areas of safety and respect for those detained.

The report’s findings are damning regarding the detention of vulnerable people, with nearly a third of those held classed as vulnerable under the Adults at Risk policy which is specifically designed to safeguard against the detention of vulnerable people.

The report highlights the continuing detention of torture survivors, even where evidence of torture has been accepted by the Home Office. HMIP criticised the quality of Rule 35 reports, which are a vital safeguard against the continuing detention of vulnerable people. Of a sample of 10 reports submitted, 9 found evidence of torture, but only one of those people was released. This very worrying finding is roughly in line with our analysis of Home Office data nationwide for 2017, which found that only 15% of Rule 35 reports led to release.

Survivors of trafficking were at risk of continuing detention as the report states that staff at the centre lacked knowledge and confidence to refer to the National Referral Mechanism, through which cases of human trafficking are referred.  Only 8% of staff interviewed knew what the NRM was.

Inspectors found a decline in the level of support for LGBT people in detention and recommends better resourcing of support at the centre.  Identification of people with disabilities was ineffective and there is an account of a wheelchair user being unable to get to his bail hearing due to lack of appropriate transport and subsequently being refused bail.

HMIP found that 23 of the men held at the centre had been detained for over a year, with one person having been held for four and a half years. The call for a time limit is repeated in this report.

High levels of mental health needs amongst those held at Harmondsworth was a contributing factor to almost half of those held at the centre saying that they felt unsafe. Furthermore, mental health provision at the centre did not meet the level of need.

Serious problems were identified with material conditions at the centre, with an endemic bed bug problem persisting since the 2015 report, along with mice infestations. The centre, which is built to category B prison standards, was found to be too prison like in its design and procedures.

The inspection found that there had been a significant increase in routine handcuffing of people in detention taken to appointments – every detainee in a random sample was handcuffed regardless of level of risk. This went against recommendations in the previous report after an elderly man was kept in handcuffs as he died in hospital in 2013.  There was also routine use of strip search for those taken to the isolation unit.

Activities at the centre were not sufficient, and education in particular is highlighted as an area in need of improvement, particularly since the removal of ESOL classes which leaves a high level of unmet need amongst those learners.

Some findings were positive with progress made, faith provision was good, as was complaints handling.  However, overall, the report emphasised that changes had not been ‘of the scale or speed that were required’.

Harriet Ballance, Acting Director of AVID said:

The evidence presented here on the continuing detention of vulnerable people, including torture survivors, shows that the safeguards against these people being detained are not functioning as they should.  The Adults at Risk policy and Rule 35 should prevent the detention of vulnerable people and lead to the release of those already in detention who are vulnerable.

At AVID, we emphasise the dynamic nature of vulnerability, which can change over time - particularly where people are detained indefinitely, and we call for a time limit on detention.  Our recommendations are echoed in the report, which repeats calls made for a time limit on the length of detention.

Support and relationships with the voluntary sector at the centre were praised in the report, with our member groups the Jesuit Refugee Service and Detention Action receiving particular mention. The support provided by these groups and their volunteers is more crucial than ever as we continue to see the indefinite detention of migrants and, in light of this evidence, the routine detention of vulnerable people.

This report on a specific centre has again shown systemic problems which can only be improved by genuine change: a 28 day time limit on detention and effective procedures to safeguard vulnerable people from being detained.