Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre: not making progress and some aspects poorly managed

Harmondsworth needed to focus on the needs of the most vulnerable men it held, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection of the immigration removal centre near Heathrow airport.

At its last inspection in 2011, inspectors found a centre that was working hard to sustain improvements after opening new accommodation. This more recent inspection was more mixed. Improvements had slowed and some aspects of safety had deteriorated. There was an inadequate focus on the needs of the most vulnerable detainees, including elderly and sick men, those at risk of self-harm through food refusal and others whose physical or mental health made them potentially unfit for detention.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • detainees were kept in vehicles waiting to disembark, sometimes for hours, and reception procedures were completely inadequate;
  • the centre was now holding fewer ex-prisoners but a number of security procedures lacked proportionality, such as the excessive use of separation;
  • a lack of individual risk assessment meant that most detainees were handcuffed on escort and on at least two occasions, elderly, vulnerable and incapacitated detainees, one of whom was terminally ill, were handcuffed in an unacceptable manner;
  • one man died shortly after his handcuffs were removed and the other, an 84-year-old man, died while still in restraints;
  • the Rule 35 procedure that identified victims of torture and others with special conditions was failing to safeguard possible victims;
  • some rooms were overcrowded and much of the centre was dirty and bleak;
  • engagement between staff and detainees was just adequate and too many staff seemed confined to their offices; and
  • some significant gaps in health care remained and the continuing uncertainty and disruption likely with the imminent change of health care provider meant there was potential for deterioration in this service.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • most living units remained settled, violence was reasonably low and arrangements to tackle antisocial behaviour were effective;
  • there had been an increase in the number of self-harm incidents since the last inspection but the care for those in crisis was good;
  • the centre had been managing well a significant number of detainees who were refusing to accept food, although immigration enforcement requirements were interfering with the contractor’s focus on the care needs of some vulnerable individuals;
  • the range of recreational activity and the number of paid work places had improved since the last inspection;
  • preparation for release was underpinned by some reasonably good welfare support; and
  • charter removals were generally well managed.

Nick Hardwick said:

‘It was hard to dispel the feeling that Harmondsworth was in a state of drift. There was some uncertainty about the future of the management contract. The centre did not seem to be progressing and some services were being poorly managed. Routines were maintained, but there had been, for example, little consideration of the changing nature of what was a potentially lower-risk population. A more careful and thoughtful analysis of need, identifying new priorities and new ideas, was required. Also needed was greater management energy and thought in implementing change and driving improvement. Most importantly, there needed to be a refocusing on individual needs of the most vulnerable people in detention, some of whom had been utterly failed by the system.’

Notes to Editors

  1.  A copy of the report. (541.15 kB)
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. This unannounced inspection was carried out from 5-16 August 2013.
  4. Harmondsworth IRC accommodates adult men detained by the Home Office’s Immigration Enforcement division (formerly the UK Border Agency). It is operated by Geo Group.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons in HMI Prisons Press Office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information or to request an interview.