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“Alarming lack of oversight and accountability” at short-term holding facilities
Credit: HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

“Alarming lack of oversight and accountability” at short-term holding facilities

The prisons inspector has recommended a national overhaul of the short-term detention system after an inspection of the Home Office’s 13 short-term holding facilities (STHFs).

The report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons paints a picture of mismanagement and lack of governance on the part of Border Force, the agency in charge of STHFs. 

Senior Border Force staff did not even know how many STHFs there are, amending the list of facilities given to inspectors several times. The report says that this “suggests an alarming lack of oversight and accountability”.

The inspection found poor physical conditions in several facilities. One seaport facility was described as “particularly filthy”, and few had showers or toiletries. This is despite some STHFs clocking up lengthy average detentions, far longer than the facilities are designed for. At Harwich, the average length of detention was almost 15 hours. 

The short-term holding facility at Felixstowe

The inspection also found that there was no formal induction of detainees, meaning that the immediate needs of vulnerable detainees could not be recognised. This led to some vulnerable detainees being held for far too long.

On one occasion, a pregnant woman was detained for nearly 27 hours with the detention log showing “little meaningful engagement” to update her on her detention. 

In Poole and Portsmouth STHFs, children were routinely handcuffed irrespective of risk.

STHF practices have been overlooked by the courts in the past, and this lack of judicial oversight may have contributed to some of the issues identified by the inspection.

The inspector made 22 recommendations, which the Home Office says it is taking “seriously”.

Larry Lock

Larry works at Bhatt Murphy Solicitors. He has previously managed the Prisons Project at Bail for Immigration Detainees, and worked as a Senior Caseworker in the immigration department at Wilson Solicitors LLP.

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