Bullying, violence main problems at centre
12th July 2010: Brook House immigration removal centre at Gatwick airport, opened in March last year, has been termed as unsafe. The centre holds around 400 men, most of whom are awaiting removal from the UK.
The immigration removal centre has been slammed by inspectors as “fundamentally unsafe" with "serious" problems, such as tormenting, hostility and drugs, as per a report. The inspectors found only a third of detainees saying that they felt safe on their first night.
The report says bullying and violence were the main problems at the time of their inspection in March.
The inspectors said challenges posed by opening a new centre and dealing with ex-prisoners and difficult captives were no excuse for the problems identified during the inspection. A number of them told the inspectors their experience at the removal centre was worse than their time in prison.
Dame Anne Owers, chief inspector of prisons, said that the new custodial establishments recurrently experience early difficulties as staff and detainees get used to the new surroundings and each other.
At the same time Owers asserted that by the time of this first full announced inspection, a year after the centre opened, managers were expected to have resolved teething problems.
The chief inspector further said that they were disturbed to find the centre with one of the least safe immigration detention facilities. The centre was discovered with aggravated prisoners and demoralised staff, some of whom lacked the necessary confidence to manage those in their care.
According to the report, the centre was designed keeping in mind the detainees would stay for only a day or two, but the reality was most of them stayed for weeks or months.
Although the centre – which is built to the same standards as a category B prison – is designed to hold detainees for no more than 72 hours, the report says the average time spent in Brook House is three months, with one man having been there for 10 months. Its design as a short-term holding centre meant there were insufficient activity or education facilities.
The report also highlighted that the staff felt besieged and lacked the confidence to deal with bad behavior by detainees and the use of power was high.
Those who were about to be deported or had been unruly were placed in two oppressive holding rooms, which are windowless and seatless. Owers order that they should be decommissioned immediately.
The confrontational approach in the treatment of detainees with a high use of force, separation often used as punishment was found. The report termed force had been used to restrain detainees by staff 78 times in the previous six months.
The chief inspector said force was generally used in line with approved techniques. However on one recent occasion a detainee was moved to temporary confinement after urinating through his door.
The chief inspector also detailed the use of the separation unit and cited the case of a detainee who was taken to a psychiatric institution after more than 80 days in separation for disturbed and disruptive behaviour.
Owers said the challenges of opening a new immigration removal centre should not be underestimated, particularly with inexperienced staff and challenging detainees, many of them ex-prisoners.
Director of Criminality and detention for UKBA, David Wood said he was disappointed with the report, but accepted its broad conclusions. He added they have acted so swiftly to implement the vast majority of the improvements recommended. They have immediately introduced an anti-bullying policy, a comprehensive drugs strategy and additional support for staff.