Dungavel House IRC – continuing high-quality care but increasingly shabby, with staff frustrated by lack of investment

Dungavel House immigration removal centre (IRC) in Lanarkshire was found by inspectors to have maintained high standards of care, though the centre had deteriorated physically and staff now felt stressed because of persistent shortages.

Dungavel House, Scotland’s only IRC, has a capacity of up to 249 detainees but held only around 80, including some women, in July 2018. The IRC is an old hunting lodge run of behalf of the Home Office by GEO Group UK Ltd.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said staff had been a “traditional and exceptional strength of Dungavel.” The report noted an “ingrained sense of respect from staff” and quoted staff as saying: “We like to show them Scottish hospitality.”

“We were pleased to see that the positive, welfare-focused staff culture seen previously had been maintained,” Mr Clarke said. “This is a precious resource that custodial institutions often struggle to embed, and it was therefore concerning to find indications of a more frustrated and often tired staff group.” Their generally positive comments to inspectors were “punctuated by unhappiness at persistent staff shortages and the lack of investment in Dungavel.

“Indeed, our principal concern was that the physical environment for detainees had been allowed to deteriorate. Many areas looked shabby and run down and some showers and toilet areas were in very poor condition. While there were plans to deal with these issues, the necessary investment was long overdue.”

There was little violence or use of force at Dungavel House. Many detainees said they felt unsafe but told inspectors this was because of their fear of removal and the uncertainties associated with open-ended detention – not a fear of physical harm in the centre. Some women told inspectors they received unwanted male attention, which they ignored, though there were no recent reported incidents of women having significant problems with male detainees. Overall, however, Mr Clarke said: “Equality work lacked rigour and there was still not enough focus on the specific needs of women detainees.”

Detainees had much better access to legal aid than in England and Wales, which helped them to manage the stress associated with some complex cases. Mr Clarke added: “While some detainees had been in detention for too long, we found few examples of very long detentions.”

Reports on cases assessed under Rule 35 – which states the Home Office must be notified if a centre doctor considers a detainee’s health to be injuriously affected by continued detention or the conditions of detention, or if a detainee may have been a victim of torture or has suicidal intentions – contained clear judgments and over a quarter led to release, more than at other recent IRC inspections. Nevertheless, Mr Clarke said, “in most of the cases we examined in detail, the Home Office replies accepted evidence of torture but did not consider this sufficient to justify release from detention.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“Dungavel House continues to provide a high standard of care to detainees. We identified some slippage in outcomes and had concerns about the vulnerability of some of those detained. However, outcomes remained good in most areas and centre managers were clear about what they had to do to make further improvements. Preserving the staff culture that has allowed Dungavel to repeatedly produce the best inspection outcomes in the detention estate, and investing in the deteriorating infrastructure of the centre, are the most immediate challenges.”

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Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the full report, published on 16 November 2018, can be found here.
  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. Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre at Strathaven, South Lanarkshire, is run on behalf of the Home Office by the contractor, GEO Group UK Ltd.
  4. Dungavel House was formerly a hunting lodge for the Duke of Hamilton. It was used as a hospital during the two World Wars, after which it became a training college for the Coal Board and then a Scottish Prison Service low-category prison. It became an immigration removal centre in 2001. The contract to manage Dungavel House on behalf of the Home Office was awarded to the GEO Group UK Ltd in September 2011. It has three residential houses – the main house and two annexes, Loudoun and Hamilton. The separate women’s unit holds up to 14 women in the main building. Most of the accommodation is shared and there are dormitories of up to eight beds. There is also a first night accommodation area within Loudoun House that acts as a self-contained unit for new arrivals.
  5. This unannounced inspection took place between 2 and 19 July 2018.
  6. For more on how HMI Prisons inspects prisons and other places of detention, please read – https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/about-our-inspections/
  7. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 787452, or at john.steele@justice.gov.uk, if you would like more information.