Former prisons ombudsman Stephen Shaw’s independent review, “Review into the Welfare of Vulnerable Persons,” urges the government to drastically reduce the 3,000 people currently being detained and to ban outright the detention of pregnant women.
He highlighted medical research which demonstrates how immigration detention can damage the mental health of detainees, especially when the detention period has no limit. The effectiveness of the policy was also dismissed, as Shaw pointed to evidence suggesting that there is no correlation between the number of people detained and the number lawfully deported.
“There is too much detention; detention is not a particularly effective means of ensuring that those with no right to remain do in fact leave the UK; and many practices and processes associated with detention are in urgent need of reform,” Shaw wrote. “Most of those currently in detention do not represent a serious [or any] risk to the public, and many represent a very low risk of noncompliance because of their strong domestic links to the UK,” he added. Shaw suggested a combination of tagging, residence and reporting restrictions, and voluntary returns be implemented instead.
Home Secretary Theresa May commissioned Shaw’s report into the system following a Channel 4 documentary aired last March which exposed abuses in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. A cross-party inquiry in parliament called for an end to indefinite detention, but the Home Office has yet to act.
Amnesty International UK described the treatment of vulnerable people in detention as “shocking.”
“Most people wouldn’t know it, but the UK locks up thousands in immigration detention, including rape victims, torture survivors and people with serious mental illness. This can and frequently does have a terrible impact on their mental health. In some cases the harm it does can be catastrophic. The system destroys people’s lives, and is utterly unacceptable. It is high time UK government ministers listened to the experts, who time and again have warned of the terrible consequences of the UK’s excessive use of detention.”