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Chief Inspector of Prisons find significant decline in safety at Morton Hall immigration removal centre

Date of Publication: 
21 March 2017

Inspection report of immigration removal centre finds rise in violence and self-harm

Chief Inspector of Prisons find significant decline in safety at Morton Hall immigration removal centre

21 March 2017

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons has today released the report of an unannounced inspection of Morton Hall immigration removal centre in Lincolnshire.

You can read the 90-page report here.

The Chief Inspector found that there had been a significant decline in the area of safety since the last inspection in March 2013, with a rise in violence and antisocial behaviour. A survey found that 38% of detainees said they felt unsafe at the centre.

Incidents of self-harm among detainees were found to have risen threefold, though the Chief Inspector said the reasons for this were not fully understood.

The report states: "Half the detainees in our survey said they had problems with feeling depressed or suicidal on arrival. There had been a three-fold increase in incidents of self-harm since the previous inspection. During the previous year, four detainees had narrowly escaped fatal or serious injuries as a result of self-harm. The causes of self-harm had not been sufficiently analysed and there was no strategy to reduce it. There had been one self-inflicted death since the previous inspection; most subsequent recommendations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and coroner had been achieved, but there was no up-to-date action plan."

In addition, the Chief Inspector of Prisons was concerned that of the 20 recommendations on safety made in the 2013 inspection report, only five had been fully achieved. "Perhaps we should not be surprised that the safety of the centre has declined", the report stated.

On the positive side, the report found that Morton Hall was generally well run: "we found good provision of activities for the detainees and an impressive focus on welfare and preparing the men for release. The quality of this work was high, and was particularly impressive given the very high levels of frustration felt by many of the detainees."

The inspectors said they "saw many examples of extremely positive interactions between staff and detainees, professional de-escalation of potentially violent incidents and creditable patience in the face of the anger and frustration of the detainees."

Nevertheless, the report found that Morton Hall "does look and feel very like a prison, and this is clearly noticed by the detainees," adding that the "punitive prison-style rewards scheme was wholly inappropriate for a detainee population."

The Chief Inspector of Prisons also raised concerns over the length of detention, with the report stating: "Too many detainees were held for prolonged periods; 31 had been held for over a year, including three who had been detained for two years, and an additional two men had been detained on separate occasions totalling more than three years. The average length of detention was also high at over three months. Caseworking inefficiencies prolonged detention in some cases; for example, an asylum application had taken seven months to be resolved, and one man was still in detention over three weeks after it was confirmed that there were no further impediments to his removal."

On the subject of legal advice, the report found: "Detainees had reasonable access to legal advice surgeries, but many did not have ongoing legal representation. Bail for Immigration Detainees attended the centre once a month and its handbook was available in the library. The internet suite provided good access to relevant websites, and we found no legal or support organisation sites blocked."

It continued: "The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) funded duty advice surgeries four days a week. Detainees had reasonable access, with 10 half-hour advice slots a day, and during our inspection they could get an appointment for the same week. In our survey, only 66% of detainees said they could contact their lawyer easily."

In response to the report, the group Detention Action said the devastating impact of indefinite immigration detention could no longer be denied.

The Independent quoted Detention Action's director, Jerome Phelps, as saying: "The three-fold increase in people self-harming in Morton Hall is an alarming sign of the distress experienced by migrants in detention. The devastating impact of indefinite detention can no longer be denied. Evidence that Morton Hall is becoming increasingly unsafe shows the urgency of the need for detention reform. The Government promised change, but it is moving far too slowly."

Eiri Ohtani, Project Director of the Detention Forum, said in a statement: "The inspection report shows an abandoned group of people held under a punitive regime behind razor wire. Despite immigration detention's colossal human and financial cost, many centres' remoteness lets the government continue to regard them as 'out of sight, out of mind'. Just last week, a group of cross-party MPs challenged the Immigration Minister on his inaction. It's time that the Minister sits up and starts developing community-based alternatives to detention."