Following the exposure of “abhorrent” abuse of detainees at a privately-run immigration removal center, the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission has demanded an inquiry. The former head of a prison monitoring board has said the issue of abuse at private prisons and detention centers is historic, and has previously ignored by chiefs.
The UK Equality and Human Rights Commission has written to Home Secretary Amber Rudd on October 18, demanding she authorize a broad inquiry into Home Office contracts handed to firms such as G4S following the exposure of “abhorrent” abuse suffered by immigrants at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre.
The organization was motivated by the BBC Panorama program Undercover: Britain’s Immigration Secrets, which featured secret footage of detainee custody officers at the private detention center humiliating and abusing detainees, including a serious physical assault that was witnessed, but not reported, by a member of healthcare staff.
“The Commission considers the footage contains evidence of arguable breaches of the Article 3 rights of immigration detainees. In reaching this conclusion, we consider the following facts are particularly significant; the footage shows deliberate acts of humiliation and abuse, including a ‘choking’ incident that appears to amount to an unlawful physical assault; the people being mistreated are in detention and the perpetrators are state agents charged with their care; many of the detainees appear to be mentally unwell and vulnerable, and include a child,” the letter stated.
As a result, Rudd has 14 days to arrange a probe, or face the prospect of legal action and/or a forced investigation over her department’s handling of private sector contracts.
In the body’s view, the inquiry should take into consideration not only the actions of the officers directly involved in incidents in the program, but also the surrounding circumstances that enabled these incidents to occur without immediate consequences or sanctions.
Moreover, the Commission suggests the behavior caught on camera may be indicative of a wider, systemic problem with human rights compliance at Brook House, immigration removal centers in the UK more generally, and the footage presents stark evidence of the impact of indefinite detention on detainees’ mental health.
As a result, Commission Chief Rebecca Hilsenrath is calling on the government to use immigration detention only as a last resort, and introduce a statutory time limit of 28 days for immigration detention.
The UK is the only country in the European Union without a statutory time limit for immigration detention — continued use of indefinite detention in the UK has been criticized by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Convention Against Torture and the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and Migration.
Head in the Sand
Criminologist Faith Spear, chair of Hollesley Bay prison’s Independent Monitoring Board until being unceremoniously sacked in January 2017 for voicing concerns over prison reform, has a number of concerns about the administration of privately-run prisons and immigration removal centers in the UK.
“I am repeatedly drawn to the statistics on children detained under Immigration Act powers in immigration removal centers. These children are not in accommodation geared up for families — some are detained in locations originally built to the same specification as Category B prisons. Cells as bedrooms and concrete yards as gardens are not environments for children. The government pledged to bring an end to the detention of children for immigration purposes back in May 2010 but clearly this has not been treated with any degree of priority,” Ms. Spear said.
Moreover, she suggests there is a lack of concern at the highest echelons of the companies charged with running private prisons.
For example, in 2014, she attended G4S’ annual general meeting, and questioned company chair John Connolly about an unannounced inspection of HMP Oakwood by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons in 2013, which concluded that against all four “healthy prison” tests (safety, respect, activity and resettlement) the outcomes observed were “either insufficient or poor.”
Why was it, she wondered, major issues continued to abound within the prison after a year? She cited figures indicating over 600 incidents of self-harm had been recorded in HMP Oakwood that year, despite the prison’s website claiming it aimed to “inspire, motivate and guide prisoners to become the best they can be.”
Her question was not answered — Connolly merely said he was aware of the recommendations of the report, and it was “normal” to have teething problems in a new jail.
“In reference to the alarmingly high levels of self harm, all that was said was there are self harm issues in all prisons. I was closed down and unable to respond to his feeble answer, twice! There was no remorse for what was happening in this prison, the CEO didn’t seem to be that concerned even though we are talking about lives,” Ms. Spear concluded.