Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre - significant improvements over three years

Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), which holds adult men near Lincoln, was found by inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons to have improved, becoming safer and more respectful for detainees since its previous inspection three years before.

The establishment – the only remaining IRC operated by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) on behalf of the Home Office – held around 240 men when inspectors visited in October and November 2019. Since 2016 the number of detainees had reduced by about a third while staffing levels had remained approximately the same.

Overall safety was assessed as reasonably good, an improvement on not sufficiently good in 2016. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “Along with the smaller population, the marked reduction in the number of very long detentions had contributed to a calmer atmosphere.” The number of detainees held for over a year had reduced to five compared with nearly 30 at the previous inspection, and two-thirds of the population left the centre within a month.

However, Mr Clarke added: “most of our safety concerns remained. Uncertainty about detainees’ immigration status and the potential for long-term detention continued to cause frustration. One detainee, for example, had been held for over two years, which was unacceptable.” Those held for lengthy periods were often detained because of documentation problems, a lack of suitable accommodation or casework inefficiencies. Nearly a quarter of the population arrived after serving prison sentences during which their cases should have been resolved.

“There were several clear indications of the vulnerability of the population,” Mr Clarke said. “For example, levels of self-harm were high and over 40 detainees had been subject to constant supervision in the previous six months because they were assessed to be at risk of imminent self-harm or self-inflicted death.” Care for detainees at risk of self-harm was generally good, however.

Levels of violence and use of force were still too high, but there were few serious incidents. Most detainees were very positive about the way staff treated them, consultation arrangements were good and equality work was reasonably good, with interpreters used very regularly. Health services, including mental health provision, were good.

Inspectors found the accommodation to be in adequate condition, though the centre still looked and felt far too much like the prison it was before it was designated an IRC. “This was reinforced by large quantities of razor wire, which managers themselves acknowledged was out of keeping with the generally calm environment in the centre,” Mr Clarke commented.

As at the 2016 inspection, the range of activities was very good and all detainees could participate if they wished to do so, though take-up was low. Another considerable strength was the welfare service provided by the third-sector organisation Lincolnshire Action Trust, which detainees valued highly. Well-qualified workers gave detainees good support on arrival and before discharge.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“We make a number of recommendations which I hope will allow the centre to further improve its care for detainees, especially in the area of safety. However, this is a largely positive report documenting significant improvements in a centre where staff from a range of agencies are doing a creditable job in mitigating the potential harms of detention.”

– End –

Notes to editors
1. The report, published on 10 March 2020, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.

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. Originally a Royal Air Force base, Morton Hall opened as a prison in 1985. New accommodation was added in 1996 and it was refitted in 2001 to provide facilities for women prisoners. Two more residential units were added in July 2002. In March 2009, Morton Hall, then a semi-open establishment, was turned into a closed prison, with a specialist role in managing foreign nationals, who comprised most of the population. In 2011, it became an immigration removal centre.

4. Notable features from this inspection: about a third fewer detainees were held than at our previous inspection; about two-thirds of the population left the centre within a month and there had been a marked reduction in the number of lengthy detentions since the previous inspection; five detainees were assessed as being level 3 adults at risk, which meant that the Home Office had accepted evidence that detention was likely to cause them harm; in the six months before the inspection, doctors had submitted 173 reports to the Home Office concerning detainees who might have been survivors of torture (and none because they were having thoughts about suicide or had other health concerns); each month, approximately 120 detainees were referred to the centre’s mental health services; the centre provided enough activity places for all detainees; and good welfare services were provided by independent third sector organisation, Lincolnshire Action Trust.

5. HM Inspectorate of Prisons inspects IRCs again four ‘healthy establishment outcomes’ – Safety, Respect, Activities and Preparation for Release and Removal. It grades them in each test as good (4), reasonably good (3), not sufficiently good (2) and poor (1). In 2016 Morton Hall scored 2-3-4-4. In 2019 it scored 3-4-4-4.

6. This unannounced inspection took place between 28 October and 15 November 2019.

7. More information on how HMI Prisons inspects prisons and other places of detention is available on our website.

8. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons on 07880 787452, or at, if you would like more information.