Immigration removal centre ‘fundamentally unsafe’

By Ian Dunt

An immigration removal centre has been branded “fundamentally unsafe” by the prison inspector.

Staff at Brook House had struggled to control large numbers of foreign prisoners, the centre itself was unsafe and management had not offered enough support to those working there.

The centre has a similar level of security to a Category B prison, the second highest level, and was designed to hold 400 male foreign prisoners.

Over six months, there had been 105 assaults and 35 incidents of self-harm, prisons inspector Dame Anne Owers said.

“There had been significant staff turnover, particularly following an outbreak of serious disorder the previous summer,” she said.

“While many staff tried hard to maintain order and control, many felt embattled.”

“A number of staff reported feeling unsupported by managers, and detainees claimed that some staff were bullied by more difficult detainees.”

Inspectors recorded the worst results for safety they had ever seen in the immigration removal system.

There was a “degree of despair” among detainees that inspectors had rarely witnessed Dame Anne went on.

“The challenges of opening a new immigration removal centre should not be underestimated, particularly with inexperienced staff and challenging detainees, many of them ex-prisoners,” said Dame Anne.

“The challenge at Brook House was significantly compounded by poor design, which built in boredom.

“But none of this can excuse the fundamentally unsafe state of Brook House, which must be urgently addressed by G4S [the contractor] and the UK Border Agency.”

The Home Office accepted the report.

David Wood, strategic director for criminality and detention for the UK Border Agency said: “We are extremely disappointed with this report, but accept its broad conclusions. That is why we have acted so swiftly to implement the vast majority of the improvements recommended.

“The vast majority of detainees in Brook House have committed very serious crimes, including drugs, sex and violent offences. The Centre therefore faces a number of challenges on a daily basis.”