Today’s report on welfare in immigration detention by former Prisons Ombudsman Stephen Shaw has presented a scathing indictment of wide-ranging failures to protect vulnerable people in detention.
The review, commissioned by the Home Secretary Theresa May, has found a catalogue of deep flaws in the identification and treatment of vulnerable migrants. Theresa May initiated the inquiry in February 2015 following unprecedented condemnation of the use of detention by a cross-party Parliamentary Inquiry and widespread outrage at allegations of sexual abuse in Yarl’s Wood. The Shaw report calls for a fundamental shift in the Home Office approach to assessing and monitoring vulnerability in detention.
The report found that ‘people with serious mental illness continue to be held in detention and that their treatment and care does not and cannot equate to good psychiatric practice… Such a situation is an affront to civilised values.’
Shaw calls for a presumption against detention for a wide range of vulnerable people, including people with post-traumatic stress disorder. He was ‘particularly concerned by the evidence that detention, as a painful reminder of past traumatic experience, can trigger re-traumatisation.’
The Shaw review calls for a ‘strengthening of the legal safeguards against excessive lengths of detention’, yet fails to follow the Parliamentary Inquiry in calling for a time limit.
Nevertheless, he concludes that there is a need for a ‘smaller, more focused, strategically planned detention estate, subject to the many reforms I have outlined… Immigration detention has increased, is increasing, and…ought to be reduced.’ In response, Minister for Immigration James Brokenshire accepted ‘the broad thrust’ of the Shaw recommendations. He also set out ‘a new approach to the case management of those detained’ which should ‘lead to a reduction in the number of those detained, and the duration of detention’.
Detention Action Director Jerome Phelps said:
‘The Shaw review presents a grim but compelling picture of a detention system that is not working, has never worked, and is causing irreparable harm to some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The reform programme he sets out does not go far enough, yet it is a substantial challenge to the Home Office to change the way it goes about locking up migrants. We welcome the Minister’s indication that he accepts this challenge, and recognition that the solution must involve detaining fewer people, for less time.’
William, a member of Freed Voices who was detained for 2.5 months before he was granted leave to remain, said:
“The Shaw Review makes lots of important recommendations that we welcome and hope the government considers. But any report on detention that side-steps the fact it is indefinite is like trimming the branches and ignoring the rotten trunk.”