Uneven progress found at Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre since last inspection

By agency reporter
April 18, 2019

Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) in Harmondsworth, west London, close to Heathrow, was found by inspectors to resemble a prison and to have made “uneven progress” in treatment and conditions since it was previously inspected in 2016.

During the most recent inspection in November and December 2018, the IRC held 246 detainees, significantly fewer than around 340 in 2016.

Among positive findings, according to Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, “it was encouraging to see that whistle-blowing procedures were well embedded and the duty of care that staff have towards detainees was well understood. Detainees’ personal physical safety was generally good and there was a calm atmosphere in the centre.”

One of the most significant improvements was in staff-detainee relationships and in respect in general. In the inspection survey, 81 per cent of detainees said that most staff treated them with respect, compared with 54 per cent at the last inspection.

Some provision, such as the very good cultural kitchen, had been further improved. Preparation for release and removal had room for improvement but remained a good area overall. The strong welfare team and good involvement by NGOs (non-governmental organisations) in the centre were particularly commendable.

However, inspectors noted some less positive findings:

  • Despite the emphasis the Home Office has placed on an ‘adults at risk’ policy, there was poor identification of, and therefore uncertain care for, some of the most vulnerable groups. Although care for those at risk of suicide or self-harm was carried out well, self-harm had risen more than threefold since 2016, though the population had fallen.
  • Some elements of security were excessive. The vast majority of detainees attending external escorts were handcuffed without sufficient justification, and detainees on the men’s units were locked in cells for long periods.
  • There remained “considerable problems” with deteriorating accommodation and significant investment will be needed to improve the fabric of the centre.

Mr Clarke added that one of the intractable problems at Colnbrook was that, with the exception of the women’s unit, the IRC was “largely indistinguishable from a prison, and prisons are rarely suitable environments for immigration detainees held under administrative, as opposed to judicial, powers.

“It was notable that some of the most vociferous critics of the prison-like feel of the centre were the staff who worked there and who, on the whole, did a very good job of looking after detainees with decency and care.” Some staff described the “daunting” or “terrifying” impact on new arrivals.

Overall, Mr Clarke said: “The Home Office is planning to build a new centre to replace Colnbrook, and the neighbouring Harmondsworth, when the new Heathrow runway is constructed. It is to be hoped that the design problems of Colnbrook, including poor ventilation and sealed windows, limited outdoor space and exercise yards that would be austere for most prisons, will be avoided in the future. In the meantime, managers and staff were working hard to make improvements within the confines of the current environment and told us that the gaps in the systems for identifying and supporting vulnerable detainees would be quickly addressed.”

* Read the full report here

* HM Inspectorate of Prisons https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/


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