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Inspecting Detention: detention monitoring bodies

There are various statutory bodies responsible for inspecting the detention system in the UK.

These include HM Inspectorate of Prisons(HMIP), which inspects prisons in England and Wales as well as detention facilities, including Dungavel IRC in Scotland and STHFs. HMIP inspectors are paid staff and their role is to provide independent scrutiny of detention using a human rights based framework.

IRCs and STHFs are inspected by HMIP at least once every four years or more frequently on a risk assessed basis. During an inspection, HMIP inspectorates interview people in detention as well as people who were previously detained at that facility to inform their reports and recommendations to the Home Office. These reports are published on their website and can be used as evidence of ill treatment in detention or poor conditions.

'There were more detainees, more protests and more evident frustration, fuelled by longer periods of cumulative detention without enough progress on immigration cases: 32 people had been detained for over six months and eight for over a year. Our assessments of a healthy establishment evidenced the deterioration. At this inspection the provision of activity had clearly worsened, and of even greater concern, safety outcomes were no longer sufficiently good.'

HMIP on Yarl’s Wood IRC, 2023

The Independent Monitoring Boards is another important inspectorate with the duty to monitor and report on day-to-day life in detention, ensuring that 'proper standards of decency and care are maintained'. There is an IMB for every detention centre, but not in every STHF, which creates inconsistency in scrutiny of standards.

'IMBs have continually reported on the relatively small number of those detained in IRCs that are actually removed from the UK, making repeated recommendations to the Minister in annual reports for 2022 that detention without a time limit is unfair and in humane'
Elisabeth Davies, Independent Monitoring Boards (National Annual report 2022)

Boards are composed of local volunteers from the community who are granted unrestricted access to their local prison or immigration detention centre including kitchens, accommodation and recreation areas, healthcare centres and the chaplaincy. Volunteers are free to talk to people being held without consulting staff.

They are also able to help with problems arising inside the prison or detention centre. If you are in detention, you can put in a confidential request to see a member of the IMB or raise a complaint. Contact details of the local IMB should be made available to you in the detention centre in addition to a box where you can post complaints anonymously if you prefer.  

Both the HMIP and IMB form part of the National Preventive Mechanism, which was set up to ensure the UK meets its human rights obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).

The Independent Chief Inspector of UKBorders and Immigration (ICIUKBI) has a remit to scrutinise the UK's border and immigration functions.

'I believe that an independent review mechanism is needed to assess the cases of individuals who have been detained for lengthy periods, as this would motivate change in the system'
John Vine, ICIUKBI, Annual Report 2012/13

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