On the 29th January 2019 BID hosted a vital discussion about immigration detention in prisons. Over 170 people attended the event “Behind Locked Doors” at Clifford Chance to hear from expert speakers:

  • Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP, newly appointed Shadow Immigration Minister
  • Jess Bicknell, BID Legal Manager overseeing our Prisons' Project which provides legal advice and representation to people detained under immigration powers in prisons
  • May Bulman, Social Affairs Correspondent at the Independent, renowned for her revelatory immigration and asylum stories
  • Richie, former BID client who was detained in prison under immigration powers
  • Toufique Hossain, Director of Public Law and Immigration at Duncan Lewis, currently preparing a wide ranging legal challenge to the lack of legal aid advice in prison

Rapper and campaigner Lowkey was also due to speak at the event but had to cancel due to illness. He sent a statement which was read out at the event:

“Those who are detained in prison due to open immigration cases following a custodial sentence are disadvantaged going into their proceedings. Their ability to access legal advice is significantly harder. In some cases people serve their sentence only to be told right at the last minute by the home office that they must now be held indefinitely for immigration reasons. This cold and inhumane treatment by the home office can lead to traumas, self-harm and even in some cases suicide”.

Read the full statement

Each speaker shared their own experiences of navigating immigration policy, sharing stories highlighting the human cost of such callous disregard for liberty and justice by the Home Office.

Jess Bicknell, BID Legal Manager, explained the history of our Prisons’ Project and shared his experience working with people detained in prisons. Sharing key legislation and case studies Jess explained what conditions are like for people detained in prisons, including potentially being locked in a cell for up to 23 hours a day and having limited phone access and visiting hours. He also highlighted that 22 prisons used for immigration purposes have no Legal Aid Immigration Lawyer with a 25 mile radius, leaving many people unable to challenge their detention and deportation. 

“Conditions vary between prisons but it is not uncommon for detainees to be  detained in their cells for up to 23 hours and sometimes longer a day. Severe staffing shortages across the prisons service means that detainees may only have 45 minutes per day outside of their cell and people have to decide how to use that time. Whether to use it to get some exercise or have a shower or call their family or perhaps call their lawyer.” - Jess Bicknell, BID

Richie’s powerful testimony was a stark account of what it is like to be detained in prison. He explained how there was no difference in conditions or regime for people detained in prison serving a sentence and those detained there for immigration purposes. He shared how his detention impacted his relationship with his family and how his mental health deteriorated. A pseudonym has been used and no images or clips have been shared to protect his identity. 

Toufique Hossain, Director of Public Law and Immigration at Duncan Lewis, explained why they believe immigration detention in prison is unlawful and outlined two challenges they are currently working on. The first challenges the lack of safeguards in prisons for vulnerable detainees and the second is a challenge to the lack of access to legal advice. He shared powerful case studies and explained Duncan Lewis frequently encounter many people in prison who have not been able to access legal advice leaving them unable to challenge their detention and deportation. 

“They are clearly vulnerable; many of them are torture survivors or victims of trafficking. Those detainees if they were in immigration removal centres could use the safeguards there. At least if you’re detained in immigration detention you can go to the health care units in IRC’s and then eventually try and go to the Home Office and say that you have evidence that you’re a victim of torture so you need to be released… In prison, and this was confirmed in a report by Stephen Shaw the former prison ombudsman, the prison rules don’t offer the adequate protection and so we took that and tried to challenge the failures and lack of safeguards in prisons.” - Toufique Hossain, Duncan Lewis

Award-winning Journalist, May Bulman shared her experience of interviewing people detained under immigration powers following a criminal sentence. She contrasted the widely held belief that people being deported following a sentence must have committed violent crimes with cases where people who were raised in the UK have been deported for very minor offenses. She explained that telling individual stories is one of the most powerful ways to change perceptions and policy.

“We need to highlight more individual cases in the media if you look at the Windrush scandal that was brought about and exposed by lots of individual cases which eventually came together to show this huge problem. And another point I wanted to make is that in a lot of these cases we know people were detained unlawfully in both prison and immigration detention and the Home Office paid out £8.2 million last year in compensation… so it’s both a financial cost and human cost.” - May Bulman, The Independent

Bell Ribeiro-Addy was elected as the MP for Streatham in the 2019 general election and was appointed Shadow Immigration Minister on the 24th January 2019. She explained her commitment to fighting for the rights of migrants in her new role and raised concerns about the Americanisation of our detention and prison systems to prioritise profit over human dignity. She also raised the issue of inequality within our criminal justice system and how people from certain backgrounds are more likely to be criminalised leaving them vulnerable to detention and deportation as part of the Hostile Environment. 

“We all know that immigration detention has been a scandal for a number of years and that it puts an immeasurable burden on the mental health of migrants, breaking up families and leaves people in dehumanising conditions but all that’s shown is that this government will stop at nothing to maintain its hostile environment. And that’s whether its deporting black British citizens, turning away child refugees, detaining the victims of rape and sex trafficking which we have legislation to say that we shouldn’t do.”

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Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) is a registered Charity No. 1077187. Registered in England as a Limited Company No. 03803669. Accredited by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner Ref. No. N200100147. We are a member of the Fundraising Regulator, committed to best practice in fundraising and follow the standards for fundraising as set out in the Code of Fundraising Practice.
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