Home Office’s embarrassing U-turn on immigrants held in solitary confinement

Home Office confuses hours with days

 

The UK Home Office appears to know little about the immigration detention centres it is supposed to oversee.

It has revised figures it provided to Prison Watch UK in June showing how long UK immigration detainees are being locked in solitary confinement. It says that numbers originally labelled as days are in fact hours.

The original Home Office data release, supplied in response to a Freedom of Information request made by PWUK, showed that in March 2014 three detainees in the infamous Yarl’s Wood detention centre were kept in solitary confinement for a collective total of 22.25 days between them.

Here is the information they gave us originally.

UK Home Office initially solitary confinement data, sent June 23rd 2015.

UK Home Office initial solitary confinement data, sent June 23rd 2015 (red underline added by PWUK).

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Hours confused with days

But in an embarrassing retraction, the government department now says those figures are out by a magnitude of 24, and the individuals in question had instead been confined for a total of 22.25 hours, not days. According to these revised numbers, no immigration detainee was isolated in solitary confinement for more than a few hours at a time in 2014.

UK Home Office backtracks on initial figures provided, saying detainees were held in solitary for hours not days.

UK Home Office backtracks on initial figures provided, saying detainees were held in solitary for hours not days. “Rule 42” of the Detention Centre Rules concerns legal provisions for solitary confinement.

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Following the Rules?

The use of solitary confinement in UK immigration detention is supposed to be highly restricted. According to the legally binding Detention Centre Rules 2001, it should only be applied to “refractory or violent” people for a short period and never as a punishment. If staff want to keep someone in solitary confinement for more than 24 hours, the rules state that they must obtain written permission from an officer of the Secretary of State.

However, some activist organisations and news outlets say that people are being placed in solitary confinement as punishment for protesting violent behaviour by centre staff or for going on hunger strike.

On receiving the original response from the Home Office in July, PWUK put in another FOI request to see the official documentation approving the prolonged isolation of the three detainees in Yarl’s Wood.  We also asked for how long each of these three people had been kept in solitary confinement on an individual basis.

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“Commercial interests” at stake

In August the Home Office replied saying it would need an additional month on top of the usual 21 working days to consider whether or not it would provide the requested information, as “commercial interests” were at stake. Yarl’s Wood is run by the private company Serco, whose reputation has been put on the line as a result of recent reports of poor conditions inside the centre.

UK Home Office response of 11th August 2015, saying

UK Home Office response of 11th August 2015, saying “commercial interests” may limit its response.

 

At the end of last month, however, the Home Office retracted its initial statement altogether, saying it had mistaken days for hours, so the longest period an individual was held for was less than nine hours. The retraction raises fresh questions about how much the Home Office actually knows about the centres it is supposed to oversee.

Prison Watch UK is currently appealing to the Information Commissioner to receive an explanation as to how the Home Office could have been so mistaken in its first response, and to view the original documentation that the conflicting sets of figures are based on.

Have you been kept in solitary confinement in immigration detention, or do you know someone who has been? Email us with your story at ukprisonwatch@gmail.com



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