Data from the end of an extraordinary year Posted March 5, 2021 by admin

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In our latest blog, SDV director, Kate Alexander, takes a look at the most recent Home Office statistics on detention

Last week saw the release of the latest statistics on detention. They cover the final quarter of 2020 and allow us to look at the whole of a year in which Covid 19 had a significant impact on detention across the UK.

The figures show that over the course of the year, 14,773 people entered detention, 40 per cent fewer than the previous year. The numbers leaving detention also fell by 37 per cent to 15,449 and nearly three quarters of them (72 per cent) were released into the community, compared to 61 per cent in 2019.

At the end of 2020, there were 910 people in detention across the UK, 44 per cent fewer than at the same time last year. The number of people in detention centres and short term holding facilities was 391, 70 per cent fewer than the previous year. But, despite the pandemic, the number of people held under immigration powers in prisons was, at 519, actually 45 per cent higher than at the end of 2019.

Of those in detention at the end of the year, a higher proportion had been detained for more than 28 days (68 per cent) than was the case at the end of 2019 (52 per cent). The proportion who had been detained for more than six months had also increased: from 10 per cent to 14 per cent. At the end of 2020, the number of people who had been detained for more than 600 days had doubled (from 8 to 16) compared to 2019.  

Turning to Scotland, at the end of 2020, there were 24 people in Dungavel compared to 42 the previous year, and 32 the previous quarter. Over the course of the year, 285 people began their detention in Dungavel – less than a third of the total in 2019 (899). This may not give a full picture of arrivals at Dungavel as the figures do not tell us about people who were moved to Dungavel from another centre.

The decrease in the number of people detained that we have seen over the course of the pandemic is welcome, but the figures remind us that for those the Government has continued to detain, the impacts are severe. The proportion detained for long periods has increased and they are detained in secure environments, many of them in prisons, during a global pandemic, with all the concerns about infection control that implies.

Added to this, since March visits have been severely limited. At Dungavel they were not allowed at all until August. After that, they were allowed in a restricted format, but were stopped because of a covid outbreak among staff at the centre, opened again briefly and then stopped again for the second national lockdown. They have yet to reopen. People in detention, always amongst the most isolated in the country, are even more isolated now. We know that detention damages people’s health. With contact with the outside world reduced to almost nothing, these effects are even more severe.

It is also important to note also that these figures only show people detained under immigration powers. Over the course of the pandemic, we have seen the UK Government increasingly using institutional settings such as army barracks and hotels to accommodate people seeking asylum. These types of accommodation are far closer to detention than to housing, are wholly inappropriate and represent a worsening of the hostile environment.

And in the last week, we have had confirmation that, in a reversal of the trend over the last five years, and in a u-turn on its commitments to detention reform, the UK Government is seeking to open the first new detention centre since 2014.

Despite the continued low occupancy in detention centres, it appears that people in detention and at risk of detention, their families, friends and the organisations that advocate for them face a more uncertain and bleaker future than they have for some time.

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