“It is apparent that more than half of those subject to immigration detention are eventually released back into the community. I remain of the view that, very frequently, detention is not fulfilling its stated aims.”
Stephen Shaw in ‘A follow-up report to the Home Office’ published 24 July 2018
Shaw’s “follow up report” regarding the Government’s approach to vulnerable people in immigration detention was released yesterday, and the Home Secretary made an oral statement in response. We are disappointed that yet another review of immigration detention will not lead to any overarching changes to address the UK’s immigration detention system which is fundamentally flawed.
Shaw acknowledged in the report that the Government’s "Adults at Risk" (AAR) policy – which was announced in response to his initial review in 2016 – may not have led to a reduction of vulnerable people being detained, but stated that problems can be attributed to a lack of “cultural change”, rather than problems with the AAR policy itself. We disagree with this position. BID has found in its research and casework that there are serious problems with the AAR policy that cannot be remedied by “culture change” in the Home Office. BID’s research report “Adults at Risk: the ongoing struggle for vulnerable adults in detention”, published in July 2018, examined both the form and application of the AAR policy by Home Office decision-makers. We found that the policy is both structurally flawed and misapplied on a systematic basis. Not one vulnerable person in BID’s study was released as a result of the AAR policy and its attendant structures.
In the Home Office press release, Sajid Javid commended the existing AAR policy, and noted that the new detention gatekeeper and review panels have ensured that “decisions to detain are reviewed.” BID’s research, however, revealed how the gatekeeper system and the review process have failed to protect vulnerable people from detention. According to a recent Freedom of Information response from the Home Office received by BID, just 141 people were prevented from entering detention by the gatekeeper in 2017 because they were found to be vulnerable (0.5% of detainees entering the detention estate).
The Minister stated that “immigration detention is only for those for whom we are confident that other approaches to removal will not work”. Such statements are inaccurate and misleading. Individuals are often handed an adverse decision on their immigration or asylum case and are detained at the same time, even though these decisions carry an appeal right. Decisions to detain, in our experience, too often operate as tick-box exercises and aren’t subject to any external scrutiny. No evidence is provided that the decision-maker has explored all alternatives before making the decision to detain. As noted by Stephen Shaw, more than half of those detained are released back into the community.
The Home Office announced that it will “improve support for the most vulnerable, introduce a new drive on dignity in detention.” There can be no “dignity” in incarcerating vulnerable people in detention; the Home Office should stop detaining all vulnerable people.
We have found no evidence that the Home Office has taken steps to improve mental health in detention. Our research and casework clearly demonstrates the decline in people’s mental health in detention.
Shaw included a section in his report about former offenders “who are more British than foreign”: “I find the policy of removing individuals brought up here from infancy to be deeply troubling.” He recommended that the “Home Office should no longer routinely seek to remove those who were born in the UK or have been brought up here from an early age.” Sajid Javid did not respond to this recommendation. BID considers the government should urgently repeal the automatic deport provisions which have led to the indefensible expulsion of many.
As well as facing permanent exile under the automatic deportation provisions, those categorised by the Home Office as “foreign national offenders” are frequently detained in prisons indefinitely under immigration powers following the completion of their sentence. Shaw repeated his recommendation that was contained in his original review that rule 35 (or its replacement) should apply to those detainees held in prisons under immigration powers as well as those in Immigration Removal Centres. In his response, the Minister made no mention of vulnerable people in prisons held under immigration powers. BID’s recent research regarding the application of the AAR policy in prisons found that the AAR policy applies on paper but not in practice. This is despite the fact that some of the most vulnerable individuals are housed under immigration powers in prisons for months, and in some cases years.
The Government’s announcement that it will pilot the extension of automatic bail hearing referrals, to allow for an additional bail referral after two months, will not reduce the number of people in detention. Disappointingly, BID has found that the decision to detain is not meaningfully reviewed by the Tribunal via automatic bail hearings. Indeed, the Home Office has advised that only a “handful” of people have been granted bail through a successful automatic bail hearing since the provision was implemented on 15 January 2018. There is no automatic legal aid representation for these hearings. Detainees are simply told they have a hearing and most often have no time to prepare or find representation. Applications are therefore usually withdrawn or refused. Such a process does nothing but enable the Home Office to defend the routine use of immigration detention.
BID again laments the constant use of the term “illegal immigrants” by the Home Secretary; a person cannot be illegal.
We call for the end of immigration detention and implore politicians to ensure that the Government fundamentally changes the way in which it treats those subject to immigration control in the UK.
BID’s director Celia Clarke said:
“Although Stephen Shaw’s second review acknowledges that detention is damaging and expensive and should only be used as a last resort, we are disappointed that the report finds the "Adults at Risk" policy a work in progress rather than, as we found, deeply flawed both in its design and implementation. Vulnerable people are neither being protected from initial decisions to detain, nor released from detention following findings of vulnerability. Depriving people of their liberty for immigration purposes is utterly disproportionate to the stated aim and has an enduring and unacceptably damaging long-term impact.”
Read Stephen Shaw's newly released report here
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