Not one more: Another death at the Verne

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Yesterday we learned of another death in detention. As the details continue to emerge, our thoughts are with the friends and family of the deceased and all who are detained indefinitely across the UK.

At the time of writing the Home Office spokesperson confirmed: “A 43-year-old man who had been detained at the Verne immigration removal centre died at the centre on 9 April 2017. Our thoughts are with his family at this very sad time. A full independent investigation will be conducted by the prisons and probation ombudsman.”

The Verne is perhaps the most isolated immigration removal centre in the UK. It is renowned for its stark geographical location and social isolation. For those detained in the Verne, contact with the outside world is difficult, as evidenced by the fact they receive 0.2 visits per month, compared to between one and three visits per month in detention centres elsewhere around the UK. They are separated from their communities, solicitors, faith groups, NGOs and other support networks by the prohibitively long and expensive journey it takes to get there. In a piece for Unlocking Detention, Mo who was detained at the Verne for 12 months said: “It’s like being stuck in an island. Your cell is the centre”.

Unfortunately deaths in detention are not uncommon. Since 2000, 30 people have died in detention with the death toll rising to 40 when we include people who died shortly after they were released. Since December 2016, there have been four deaths. Recent statistics from the HMIP inspection into Morton Hall show that incidents of self harm have tripled. Suicide attempts across the detention estate in 2016 totalled at 341, almost one every day.

In in early 2016, Ben called around the Freed Voices group to discuss life and death in detention. While the statements are over a year old, they still ring true today:

“Death is everywhere in detention. People are trying to kill themselves every day. People are expecting to be killed if they are returned to their countries. People feel like they are dying from suffocation, all locked up. You look at some people and they are already dead – they are ghosts. Death is not a strange thing in detention. It has become normalised. It is part of the DNA.” (Ishiaba*)

The UK is building a unique evidence base of the various harms caused by indefinite detention. Both the Detention Inquiry and the Home Office’s own Shaw Review strongly recommended a fundamental change. The Government promised change, but has not delivered. With cross party support for a time limit and the need to explore alternatives, the stakes are too high to wait any longer. Not one more life should be lost in detention.