SDV director, Kate Alexander, blogs about the latest Dungavel inspection report
There’s an unfortunate typo on page 34 of HMIP’s report of its inspection of Dungavel, published yesterday. The page discusses information gleaned from the inspectors’ survey of people in Dungavel at the time of the inspection and point 2.24 begins: “In our survey, 79% of prisoners . . .”.
Prisoners? The people held in Dungavel and the other centres like it across the UK are not prisoners. They are not there because they have committed an offence or been charged with one. They are there for the administrative convenience of the state. And because the UK has no time limit on immigration detention, people entering Dungavel have no idea when they will leave. If they were prisoners, they would.
The lack of a time limit means that people can be detained for many months and sometimes years. These very long periods of detention, as well as the detention of survivors of torture and rape and people with serious health issues were the inspectors’ main concerns.
These issues are outwith the control of GEO, who run the centre under contract to the Home Office. Decisions about who to detain and for how long are taken by Home Office officials, with no automatic judicial oversight – another way in which people in detention differ from prisoners.
The report does not let GEO off the hook entirely. While declaring Dungavel to be ‘a safe place’, it makes over 50 recommendations to the centre manager for improvements in practice, the most important relating to the safety of the women held there.
But make no mistake, the main issue is with the system of immigration detention itself. In the words of this year’s Detention Inquiry Report: “the problems that beset our immigration detention estate occur quite simply because we detain far too many people unnecessarily and for far too long”.