Detention Inquiry report released: ‘we cannot go on as we are.’



Today, Detention Action welcomes the release of the first ever Parliamentary inquiry into the detention system, which has rightly concluded that ‘we cannot go on as we are.’

The inquiry’s report has also echoed Detention Action’s general election demand and called for a time limit of 28 days on immigration detention, finding the current system ‘expensive, ineffective and unjust.’

Written by a cross-party panel of Parliamentarians, the report amounts to a powerful and forthright rejection of a focus on ‘tinkering’ to make detention less harmful. It concludes that change must come as part of a ‘wholesale change in culture, towards community models of engagement and better caseworking and decision-making.’ The inquiry argues that ‘the United Kingdom has a proud tradition of upholding justice and the right to liberty. However, the continued use of indefinite detention puts this proud tradition at risk.’

In response to the release of the ground-breaking report, Detention Action’s Director, Jerome Phelps, said: “We are delighted that parliamentarians from across the political spectrum are recognising the disastrous consequences of the overuse of detention. The inquiry is right that it is not enough to tinker with conditions in detention. Only wholesale reform can address the grotesquely inefficient and unjust incarceration of 30,000 migrants a year. The inquiry is also correct that such reform should start with a time limit on detention. The UK is unique in Europe in detaining migrants indefinitely. They lose years of their lives in high security detention centres, wondering if they will ever be released. It is time for a time limit.”

The lack of time limit was ‘itself an incentive to poor case-working: the lack of any external pressure to complete cases within a set time-frame led to sloppy practice.’ Indeed, statistics reveal that ‘the longer an individual is detained, the less likely it is that the person’s detention will end with their removal from the UK.’


The inquiry found that the Home Office is failing to follow its own guidance in using detention sparingly and for the shortest possible period. Instead, the ‘enforcement-focused culture’ of the Home Office leads it to detain ‘far too many people unnecessarily and for far too long.’

Souleymane of the Freed Voices group, who was detained for three and a half years and gave evidence at an oral hearing of the inquiry, was also at the report’s launch: “Every day in detention is a day in hell. It ruins people’s lives and breaks their souls. When I gave evidence to the inquiry last year, I said we should put detention on trial. Well, we have, and this report has found the detention estate guilty. Now we need action.”

The inquiry also crucially calls for the development of community-based alternatives in order to end the disproportionate use of detention. The inquiry found that other countries use alternatives to detention that ‘not only achieve high compliance rates, but they are also considerably cheaper than our current system.’ Rather than the traditional enforcement-based alternatives used with limited success in the UK, other countries ‘focus on intensive engagement with individuals in community settings.’

Detention Action Director, Jerome Phelps said: “Countries like Australia and the US are using alternatives to detention that are cheaper, less harmful and more effective in promoting compliance with immigration control. The UK is isolated in its reliance on enforcement and detention. Detention is not working, either for immigration control or for the people at the sharp end.”