Prison-like design of new units of Harmondsworth criticised

A new report has criticised the prison-like design of the new units of Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre.

Much of the new accommodation had been built to prison specifications which was out of keeping with how detainees should be managed, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, in a report of an unannounced inspection of the removal centre near Heathrow.

Mr. Hardwick said Harmondsworth had managed to maintain standards despite doubling in size, but pointed out that significant improvements were still needed in some areas.

Previous inspections over recent years have recorded steady progress at Harmondsworth, after a second disturbance at the centre in 2006. At its last inspection in early 2010, this improvement had continued although the opening of new accommodation at that time raised the prospect of significant challenges as it meant that the centre was to double in size.

Mr. Hardwick said that they found some improvements had been sustained during a time of considerable change, but some concerns remained.

The report shows that Harmondsworth remained a reasonably safe institution, where staff dealt with incidents reasonably well.

Arrangements to support those at risk of self-harm were also generally good.

The promotion of and respect for diversity had improved and there was little evidence of tension between different groups.

Engagement between staff and detainees was reasonable; and the preparation of detainees for removal or release was reasonable, with some good welfare work from staff, and support from outside agencies.

About 10% of the population had been held in detention for over a year and the anxiety that flowed from this experience was palpable, the report said.

Inspectors were concerned to find that the ability to communicate with legal advisors or other support mechanisms, or to see on-site UK Border Agency staff was often limited.

The report however shows that Rule 35 reports and responses to detainees who may have been the victims of torture or who were unfit to detain were often insufficient.

Health care received many complaints from detainees, but while some poor service was still evident, there were renewed efforts from managers and improvements beginning to be seen.

Provision of activity had failed to keep pace with the growth of the centre, so most detainees had too little to do; and the unacceptable practice of taking reserves to charter flight removals persisted.

Mr. Hardwick said the prison-like design of the new units of Harmondsworth “is regrettable and such an environment will always be unsuitable for people held under immigration powers.”

He added: “Other areas gave us cause for significant concern, including health care, activities and the management of detainees who might be unfit for detention. Improvements in these areas need to be sustained and accelerated.”

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