As many of you probably cannot be bothered to read the full report on the unannounced full follow-up inspection of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre on 9 – 13 November 2009 by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, we've chosen a few lowlights for you, with the odd comment of course.
Length of Detention:
Over the past six months, 420 children had been detained, of whom half had been released back into the community, calling into question the need for their detention and the disruption and distress this caused. Some children and babies had been detained for considerable periods – 68 for over a month and one, a baby, for 100 days – in some cases even after social workers had indicated concerns about their and their family’s welfare. Detailed welfare discussions did not fully feed into submissions to Ministers on continued detention. - Introduction. [This figure of only 50% actually deported was confirmed earlier this month.]
Now Phil Woolas has responded to this directly, on amongst other things Radio 4, and has claimed that, whilst half of all Yarl's Wood detainees are released at some point (he helpfully pointed out that "all the people we are talking about are appeal-rights exhausted"), almost all are subsequently removed from the country. Now, this raises a few interesting points.
Firstly, and our maths here may not be too hot, but if half of all detainees are released but almost all are subsequently removed then:
1] half are being detained before all legal avenues have been exhausted, be they appeal-rights exhausted or not;
2] in order to remove almost 100%, if half are removed at each subsequent detention, then 25% are detained twice before deportation, 12% detained three times, 6% four times, you get the picture.
Therefore the line that "whenever we [UKBA] take decisions involving children, their welfare comes first and we will always seek to act in the best interests of the child" and that the Home Office's only detains people when their removal is imminent or when there is a risk of them absconding, and when other alternatives have been considered, is clearly not true.
And just ask yourself, if you have been in the country for a number of years, you have a settled home life with your children in school, are you likely to go on the run? The Home Office clearly thinks so, despite them never having offered one scintilla of evidence that this is likely to be the response of families facing deportation.
So his statement in response to the report that "The sad fact is that some illegal immigrants refuse to comply with the decision of the independent courts and return home voluntarily. The alternatives to centres like Yarl's Wood include putting children into care – which would mean separating them from their parents and risking increased child trafficking and further illegal immigration," is a load of hogwash. [Note: he does not iterate the other alternatives.] And to bring child trafficking into the argument is really scraping the bottom of the barrel.
None of the five families who had been held for 28 days or more [NB: reviews of continued detention have to be carried out after 28 days] and who were discussed during a conference call held during the inspection were removed and all were eventually released. - Main recommendation #2.
More than 10% of detainees had been held at Yarl’s Wood for more than six months. Of these, 13 had been held for six to eight months, eight for eight to 10 months and 11 for more than 10 months. Three detainees had been detained for two years and more. The average length of detention at the centre was 34 days for single female detainees (compared to 22 days in 2008) and 16 days for families. There were no statistics for length of detention across the estate and even those for length of detention at Yarl’s Wood were not easily accessible. The cumulative length of detention was highly relevant to the management of cases, including by the UKBA’s on-site office, so this lack of accurate statistics could adversely impact on detainees. - Immigration casework 3.15.
One Zimbabwean woman detained for nearly two years was awaiting a Court of Appeal hearing, but the monthly review letters failed to mention that there had been no forced removals to Zimbabwe throughout this period. In the case of another woman held for 13 months, it had taken a year to confirm her claim of having Nigerian nationality and the monthly review letters failed to identify the reason for lack of progress. There was no evidence in the case file that the detainee was not cooperating. In other cases, the reason for continued detention was highly questionable. One Nigerian woman who had been at the centre for 16 months was told that her continued detention was because she had been ‘assessed as posing a serious risk of harm to the public’ for committing the offence of possession of a false identity document for which she had served nine months in prison. - Immigration casework 3.17.
Health & Welfare Provision:
Provision of activities for them was among the poorest seen in any removal centre. It had been inadequate at the last inspection, and had declined even further. The absence of activity added to the depression and anxiety of women, many of whom were spending lengthy periods at Yarl’s Wood. The average length of stay had increased by 50% since the last inspection, and one in ten women had been detained for more than six months. There was some paid work, but only about a dozen jobs offered more than 10 hours a week. The quality and quantity of education was poor, except for some good arts and crafts work. - Introduction.
The conditions, activities and services for children, within the centre, had improved significantly, but this, while welcome, could not compensate for the adverse effect of detention itself on the welfare of children, half of whom were later released back into the community. - Introduction.
There had been no assessment of adult mental health needs. - Introduction.
None of the 5 previous recommendations regarding food had been achieved, though the percentage saying that "the food was good or very good" had risen to 17% from the previous only 7%, against the comparator standard of 27%.
Food lacked variety, could be of poor quality and was much criticised by detainees. - Respect HE.24.
Detainees did not work in the kitchen and were unable to contribute to the preparation of national dishes. - Respect HE.33.
[Between August and October 2009], 845 detainees had left following issue of removal directions: 554 [66%] had been escorted by G4S inland and 143 of these removals (26%) had failed; 291 [34%] had been escorted by overseas escorts and 74 (25%) had failed. - Removal and release 10.18.
There were several examples of arrangements made to split the family for effective removal. This usually meant separating the family from the father, but in one case the proposal was to separate a five year old child from his mother on their journey to the airport. In another case, separating the father was described as ‘leverage over the mother’ and in another, separating the mother from her 18 year old son was described as ‘leverage to decrease the mother’s obstructive behaviour’. - Removal and release 10.26.
In January 2009, force had been used to split a family of six so that the father and two children could be removed. The youngest child had been removed by force from his father’s grip and a 10 year old child was taken by force into the departure area after refusing to leave his mother. In the same month, force was used on a pregnant woman. Her three year old son had been kept in the family care suite while she was taken to the legal offices to be given removal directions. On leaving the offices, she had refused to move further and called repeatedly for her son. She had been forcibly placed in, and held in, a wheelchair and taken to the family care suite where she was reunited with her son. - Removal and release 10.27.
Paid work had expanded to 49 paid work roles, but this was still inadequate for the population. Only a quarter of roles offered work for more than 10 hours a week and there was a two to three week waiting list for jobs. The application process was unclear and work agreements that detainees were required to sign were not translated. Access to work could be vetoed for non-compliance with UKBA, which inappropriately mixed custodial and immigration functions. the child. - Activities HE.37.
The privileges of enhanced status were access to the clothing bazaar, 30 minutes a day internet access and the ability to apply for paid work, subject to UKBA approval (see section on work and learning and skills). Standard level detainees were restricted to 30 minutes a week of internet access, which inappropriately reduced the amount of their contact with the outside world. - Rewards scheme 8.15.
Further recommendations 8.16 Detainees should only be downgraded to the standard level for a pattern of behaviour rather than a single incident, unless that incident is very serious. 8.17 Reviews should be regular and take place on time. 8.18 Reduced access to the internet should not be a penalty within the rewards scheme
A 65% increase in the use of force in first 9 months of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008.
Almost twice the numbers of incidents of temporary confinement under Rule 42 in first 9 months of 2009 compared to same period 2008.
A 37% increase in the number of complaints, nearly half were made about medical issues [32%] and ‘poor communication’ [16%].
After the 2008 inspection, the HM Inspectorate of Prisons made 128 recommendations, the same number as during the 2009 visit. Of those, only 59 [46%] were achieved by the second visit. Of those 43 unachieved and 16 partially achieved recommendations from 2008, 65 were carried over to this report to make 187 new or repeated recommendations to the operators of Yarl's Wood  and to UKBA , plus 2 jointly addressed.
But probably most damning of all:
There seemed to be no change in practice following the removal of the reservation to Article 22 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and no consideration of whether detention was essential or in the best interests of the child. - Childcare and child protection 4.28.