Detainees face effective prolonged solitary confinement with 22 to 24 hours in cell
Report by Bail for Immigration Detainees and Medical Justice documents immense harm caused by Covid confinement practices on immigration detainees in prison
19 July 2021
A new report published last week by Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) and Medical Justice looks at the problems faced by immigration detainees being held in prisons during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 33-page report, "Every day is like torture ": Solitary confinement & Immigration detention, can be downloaded here.
As the title suggests, BID and Medical Justice find that the widespread confinement practices used to stop the spread of Covid, which sees people being held in their cells for 22 to 24 hours a day, effectively amounts to prolonged solitary confinement.
BID and Medical Justice said: "This report seeks to document the immense harm caused by this practice. All prisoners are being subjected to these extremely severe lockdown conditions and we are opposed to the confinement [of] anyone in prisons. For the purposes of this report, we draw on the experiences of clients of Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) and Medical Justice and the evidence documented in their casework, and therefore focus on the experiences of immigration detainees. Examining witness statements from five BID clients who were held in solitary or shared confinement and evidence from six medico-legal reports from Medical Justice, this report demonstrates the detrimental impact of solitary and shared confinement on individual health and well-being."
The report finds that prolonged confinement causes profound harm to an individual's health and well-being, with clients of BID and Medical Justice describing confinement as "psychological torture" and causing feelings of being "trapped", "suffocated" and "hopeless"
"Symptoms were incredibly severe, including involuntary shaking, memory loss, physical pain and insomnia," the report states.
The report notes that the legal purpose of immigration detention cannot be reconciled with the conditions in which it is currently taking place, since immigration detention is an administrative process that exists for the purpose of removal and it is therefore not a punishment.
BID and Medical Justice added that the confinement of immigration detainees is further exacerbated by the fact that the individual may need to take proactive steps to secure their release on bail, but the very limited access to legal advice in prisons is further restricted by confinement.
The report explains: "The use of prisons for immigration detention always makes it more difficult to provide legal representation to BID's clients. It is often difficult to communicate with, and take instructions from, individuals as they do not have access to the internet or mobile phones and most communication happens via a slow postal system. This problem pre-dates the pandemic but the strict lockdown regimes have made it worse. In a number of cases BID has been forced to provide representation on the basis of partial instructions from individuals. In a number of cases strict lockdown regimes, or coronavirus outbreaks, have meant that an individual cannot be produced for the bail hearing or could not communicate with counsel prior to the hearing."
Medical Justice director Emma Ginn said the fact that so many immigration detainees are being locked up in solitary confinement is profoundly disturbing.
"That this imprisonment extends beyond a criminal sentence means severe harm is being inflicted during, and because of, a period of entirely unnecessary and purely administrative detention – we need to question if this is civilised or in fact gratuitous. It is certainly the biggest scandal most people have never heard of," Ginn added.
BID's director Annie Viswanathan said: "It is impossible not to be horrified at what is being done to people in the name of immigration control or to imagine the profound frustration and distress that people experience when trapped in a cage for most if not all of the day, not knowing when it will end. That it leaves people with enduring mental and physical health problems is hardly surprising and exactly why it has been banned under the UN's 'Mandela Rules'.
"I hope this report causes the people with the power to take stock and reflect on the continuing use of a barbaric practice that shames our society. This cruelty needs to end and people should be released so that they can be supported in the community."