Shaw review: Immigration detention in urgent need of reform

Posted by Rachel Robinson on 14 January 2016

In a 364-page report released today, former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Stephen Shaw CBE delivers a serious blow to an immigration detention system creaking under the strain of widespread condemnation.

The Shaw Review into the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons concludes: “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”.

"Detention in and of itself undermines welfare and contributes to vulnerability."

The Review emphasises evidence showing “incontrovertibly that detention in and of itself undermines welfare and contributes to vulnerability.” His conclusions are powerful and place beyond doubt the need for immediate reform.

An affront to civilised values

The scandal of detaining pregnant woman must now come to an end – the Shaw Review recommends that “the presumptive exclusion of pregnant women should be replaced by an absolute exclusion”.

It draws on evidence from all corners of the globe that immigration detention has a negative impact on detainees’ mental health – and that the impact increases the longer detention continues. For the many people suffering from serious mental illness in our detention estate, Shaw argues for a removal of the caveat that detention can continue where a condition can be “managed” in detention.

His message to Government is simple: “it is perfectly clear to me that people with serious mental illness continue to be held in detention and that their treatment and care does not and cannot equate to good psychiatric practice (whether or not it is ‘satisfactorily managed’). Such a situation is an affront to civilised values”.

Following on from last year’s harrowing HMIP report on Yarl’s Wood removal centre, which focused in particular on healthcare failings, the Shaw Review has uncovered yet more evidence of a culture of cynicism amongst detention staff.

It outlines reports of “interruptions of treatment for those on drug regimes, either because of poor clinical assessment or because medications were not obtained from detainees’ homes at the time of their detention” – and emphasises that such practices are clinically dangerous and must stop.

The Rule 35 medical report process, designed to identify and protect victims of torture from detention, “does not do what it is intended to do – to protect vulnerable people who find themselves in detention”. The Review recommends an alternative system be immediately drawn up by the Home Office.

A ‘case’ not a person

In addition to grave inadequacies in the systems designed to protect victims of torture, Stephen Shaw expresses his acute concern over the five recent cases in which the Home Office was found to be in breach of the Article 3 prohibition on torture – enshrined in our Human Rights Act – as a result of ill-treatment of detainees.

“It is not surprising that detainees feel ‘dehumanised’ by the existing process and believe they are treated as a ‘case’ not a person.”

Importantly for the campaign for a 28-day time limit on immigration detention, Stephen Shaw recommends consideration be given “to ways of strengthening the legal safeguards against excessive length of detention”.

He also calls on the Home Office to give greater emphasis and energy to alternatives to detention. For those who think immigration detention is about public protection, the Report makes the reality clear: “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 non-compliance because of their strong domestic links to the UK”.

Shaw’s comments about the impact of detention should speak to the conscience of the nation:  “It is not surprising that detainees feel ‘dehumanised’ by the existing process and believe they are treated as a ‘case’ not a person.”

One of report’s most enduring messages is that “tolerance may not be the soundest basis for public policy, but the total absence of sympathy is assuredly a worse one” – one the Home Office would do well to consider.

Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson

Policy and Advocacy Manager