Urgent improvements needed at Derwentside Immigration Centre, says report

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Content Warning: Mentions of self-harm and suicide

A report written by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons has uncovered a series of safety concerns at the controversial Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), following an unannounced inspection of the facility in August.

The report published this month found that there were major flaws in the facility’s safeguarding policies which require “urgent improvements”. The concerns were primarily centred around a failure to tailor safeguarding policies to meet the particular needs of female detainees.

The report uncovered flaws in the monitoring process for detainees who may have been at risk of self-harm and suicide, with such detainees not getting “consistent and well-orgnaised care”. Close supervision of detainees whose cases were deemed “high risk” was not well organised nor documented, and oversight over the use of force was also deemed inadequate, having “not always [been] carried out professionally” by staff members. 

In one example highlighted in the report, inspectors saw a male member of staff alongside two female staff members carrying out constant supervision of one female detainee deemed to be at high-risk. This was despite the fact that one of the detainee’s triggers for self-harm included the presence of men.

Another example described how one detainee was “brought to the ground” and handcuffed after she resisted leaving the centre for a removal flight. Despite showing no violence or aggression, staff “continued to struggle with her using unapproved and risky techniques”, which put the detainee through considerable pain. The detainee did not ultimately leave the centre and was not put on the removal flight.

More generally, the report said there was concern that staff displayed “insufficient awareness” of women’s needs, with some staff and managers being unprofessional in their interactions with detainees by making “disrespectful comments” and exhibiting behaviour that “showed little understanding of detainees’ past traumas”. 

“The fragilities that our inspection identified could lead to real harm”

charlie taylor

There were also concerns about the inadequate nature of investigation into safety incidents, the underutilisation of interpretation services, and issues with the facility itself not being finished at the time of inspection. Women were said to have little to do activity-wise at the facility, and not enough was being done to encourage and facilitate family contact.

In total, no fewer than 15 concerns were raised in the report by the leaders and managers of Derwentside. Of these, four were listed as “priority” concerns requiring the most immediate attention, which were: The “deficient” nature of operational management, the care given to those at risk of self-harm and suicide, the use of force by staff members, and the prolonged detention of some vulnerable detainees despite the “deleterious effect” on their wellbeing.

The report did identify some positive aspects of how Derwentside was being run. Health care provision at the facility was deemed to be “excellent”, while the inspectors also noted how the Home Office engagement team was operating “far more effectively” than teams at other IRCs. The report also praised the centre’s welfare team, including their work with charity Hibiscus to support women while detained and also when released.

Speaking of the report, Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said: “Overall the picture at Derwentside was very positive with some really impressive work being done. But this was undermined by gaps in crucial processes relating to safety that just aren’t good enough given the vulnerable women detained there. 

“There is also a real risk that, as the number of women held there rises, the fragilities that our inspection identified could lead to real harm. The centre’s leadership, the central Mitie team and the Home Office must act on this.”

Since plans to create the all-female detention centre became known, campaigners have been calling for the facility to be closed down, on the grounds of human rights concerns. Campaigners have spoken extensively about the “trauma” experienced by many of the women who are caught up in the UK detention system, and the impact this has on already vulnerable individuals. The campaign group No To Hassockfield have staged numerous demonstrations, both outside the centre and around County Durham, often joined by protesters and campaign groups from across the UK. 

” Derwentside is an inhumane and unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money”

dr helen groom

Dr Helen Groom, of No To Hassockfield, said the report “confirms what No to Hassockfield have always said. Derwentside is an inhumane and unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money. Contractors Mitie have been paid millions to run the place and can’t even provide staff with the qualifications to run it in line with Home Office policy.

“There is no case for locking up vulnerable women in this way. A Home Office project in Newcastle run by Action Foundation has already shown that women caught up in the nightmare of asylum detention can have their cases dealt with much more effectively and cheaply in the community. Derwentside IRC should be closed.”

The IRC has also been subject to extensive student and political opposition over the last year. Most recently, the Labour MP Kate Osborne wrote to current Home Secretary Suella Braveman following a recent visit to Derwentside. She said, “Women who are locked up in Derwentside are being denied human rights, are isolated and unable to access face-to-face legal advice.

“The majority of those being detained here are innocent of any criminal activity and will be detained for unjust and unnecessary administrative purposes. Some of the women have been trafficked; one woman has been detained here for 200 days – isolated from loved ones.”

Palatinate contacted the Home Office for comment, and were sent an official fact sheet in response. It states that “immigration detention makes a limited but essential contribution to tackling illegal immigration”, and that the Home Office are held to account on its promise of making detention lawful, by ensuring “a realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable timescale”.

The fact sheet also states that “all staff working with women must receive appropriate gender specific training…in addition to generic training received during initial training”. The Home Office say the site “will have a full range of recreational and healthcare facilities tailored to women”, and visits “will be facilitated” in line with other centres.

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