Socialist Worker

Detention centres turned into high security prisons

Socialist Worker spoke to Jerome Phelps, director of the London Detainee Support Group

Issue No. 2220

Jerome Phelps

Jerome Phelps

“The report will show the massive human impact on detainees while they wait for a resolution of their case that never comes.

There’s a growing awareness of the more unsavoury aspects of the indefinite detention of people who can’t be deported.

For example, HM Inspectorate of Prisons has repeatedly criticised it. There have been a series of court rulings against these detentions, particularly of Somalis.

The report will document just how ineffective the policy is—how few people ultimately go on to be deported.

There’s been quite a significant strengthening of the case law around how unrestrained the power to detain is.

But while courts are ordering more people to be released, the UK Border Agency has increased pace at which it detains them.

The most recent official statistics show that 245 people have been detained for more than a year, which is the highest ever.

And these figures don’t include everyone.


People finishing prison sentences often spend many months held in prison as an immigration detainee before they’re transferred to a detention centre and they don’t appear in the statistics. So the true picture is significantly worse.

There is an alarming trend towards treating detention centres as high security prisons. The last three detention centres to open have all been equivalent to category B prison security levels.

They opened four new wings at Harmondsworth in July, to make it the largest detention centre in Europe—these are all high security.

Our Detained Lives report also deals with the bail system, where detainees can argue in the Administrative Courts that their detention is unreasonable.

The problem with this system is that the courts were endlessly finding that a bit more detention would be reasonable.

What we and others have done in response to that is to initiate challenges in the high court as to the lawfulness of detention.

We’ve worked with various solicitors to bring actions against unlawful detention.

The high court has taken a significantly tougher line on the government than the immigration tribunal.

There’s been a series of rulings that have said it is not acceptable to keep saying we need a little bit more time to detain them.

There’s a growing consensus that the detention system is fundamentally irrational.

It’s broken and needs to be looked at again from the ground up. Detention should only be used as a last resort for the shortest period of time.”

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