Morton Hall immigration removal centre was working well to prepare detainees for removal or release, but safety had declined, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the immigration removal centre (IRC) near Lincoln.
Morton Hall had previously been a women’s prison until May 2011 when it was re-roled to become an IRC. It was last inspected in March 2013. This more recent inspection found that the IRC was generally well run, with good provision of activities for the detainees and an impressive focus on welfare and preparing men for release or removal. This was particularly impressive given the high levels of frustration felt by many detainees, fuelled by the fact that many of them had spent a considerable time in detention and for many there was no clear pathway towards release. Delays in casework created some of the frustration. In these circumstances, it was to the credit of leadership and staff that relationships between staff and detainees remained generally strong. However, there had been a significant decline in safety since the last inspection in 2013.
Inspectors were pleased to find that:
staff engaged effectively with some very frustrated detainees and maintained good relationships overall;
- detainees had reasonable access to activities and facilities were good;
- there was a range of education provision and teaching and learning were good, and there was enough work for the population; and
- welfare staff provided a valuable service and work to prepare men for release or removal was better than elsewhere.
However, inspectors were concerned to find that:
- levels of violence and antisocial behaviour had risen and the IRC needed to do more to understand the causes to enable it to take a more active approach;
- there had been a self-inflicted death since the last inspection in 2013 and another man has died since this inspection;
- self-harm had risen threefold, and the causes had not been sufficiently analysed to inform a strategy to reduce it;
- too many detainees were held for prolonged periods – 31 for over a year – and the average length of detention was also high at over three months; and
- Morton Hall had suffered the impact of new psychoactive substances becoming available.
The IRC looks and feels like a prison, with a great deal of razor wire in evidence to prevent access to roof areas. While it might not be feasible to change this in the immediate future, it should be a longer-term aspiration so that the environment can more properly reflect the principles of immigration detention.
Peter Clarke said:
“The very real challenges faced by this IRC should not be allowed to overshadow the commitment and skill of the staff who clearly had the interests of the detainees at the forefront of their minds. We 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.
“The challenge for Morton Hall is to halt the decline in safety and secure the investment needed to prevent any further deterioration in the condition of the residential units. The inevitable wear and tear of ageing facilities had been exacerbated in many places by vandalism and graffiti. Poor physical conditions will do nothing to lessen the frustration felt by many of the detainees when faced, in many cases, with indeterminate uncertainty about their future.”
A copy of the full report, published on 21 March, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons