Phones for detainees set criticism bells ringing

Campaigners are claiming the system will isolate, monitor and exploit detainees 28th September 2011: It may send surprise bells ringing, but new detainees at Yarl’s Wood immigration prison are being given new mobile phones. The centre is run by outsourcing giant Serco. The move has already run into criticism.
The phones are locked to O2 SIM cards and have back covers glued on to prevent the use of any other SIM, according to the Corporate Watch can reveal.

The campaigners are claiming that the system will be isolating, monitoring and exploiting the detainees even further.

Criticizing the system, the critics of the scheme told Corporate Watch that the new system with a fixed number and handset assigned to each detainee would go a long way in enabling Serco and the immigration authorities to monitor detainees’ phone calls and punish those who break the rules.

This would include talking to campaigners or the media during disturbances.

The scheme would also isolate detainees even further. A member of the SOAS Detainee Support group said Yarl’s Wood is already in the middle of nowhere. Making mobile phone calls more expensive for detainees is just another attempt to demoralise them. It will make communication with friends, family, lawyers and doctors virtually impossible for many of these people, who are already some of the poorest in our society.”

This is not the first time such a system has been introduced. A similar scheme was introduced by G4S in Tinsley House, near Gatwick airport.

As of now Serco has no immediate plans to roll it out to its other detention centre, Colnbrook, near Heathrow.

According to a letter handed over to the detainees by the management in early August: “Every resident will be issued with a mobile phone on the O2 network, which has the strongest mobile phone signal of all the networks in the Yarl’s Wood area … This will be phased in over the next few weeks.”

The letter went on to add the phones have a “built-in SIM card and a fixed mobile telephone number”, and that O2 top-up credit can be purchased from the centre’s shop.

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