We recognise the careful work undertaken by Stephen Shaw, and note that much of his analysis and a number of his recommendations are in agreement with our written submissions to his review and our experience of working directly with people detained at Brook and Tinsley Houses.
We are cautiously optimistic that positive change for people in detention is possible following the government’s pledge to ‘pick up the pace of reform’ in response to this review.
With a view to seeking positive change, we welcome the alternative-to-detention pilot the Home Secretary has committed to. This and any future alternatives to detention programmes must have a clear objective of reducing the UK’s use of detention, must translate into the closure of detention centres to reduce significantly the detention estate in the UK, and must be operated and evaluated appropriately.
We particularly welcome Mr Shaw’s call for ‘robust independent oversight’ of immigration detention decisions and the detention system as a whole. We look forward to the government’s further response to this.
Currently, immigration detention is ineffective and clearly often used as a first not a last resort; the review found that more than half of those detained are later released and not removed. Very vulnerable people continue to be detained, with Mr Shaw disturbed by his visits to detention centres identifying people that he felt simply ‘should not be there.’ A very significant proportion of people (nearly 44%) in detention were identified as vulnerable but this information had not led to their release. The need for significant change to the Home Office’s approach is clear from the evidence.
The Home Secretary’s announced review into the need for a time limit for immigration detention is particularly welcome. A time limit is a key part of a fair and humane immigration system. This needs to be allied to a drastic reduction in the number of people detained and the length of their detention. Wider change requires much more robust detention decision-making by the Home Office, a focus on individuals’ vulnerability and the establishment of community-based alternatives to detention as the norm.
The UK remains the only country in Europe with no time limit on immigration detention. We believe that the indefinite detention of people for immigration purposes – a ‘filing cabinet for people’, as a person formerly detained described the system – is entirely unjustifiable. With our colleagues across the Detention Forum and beyond, we continue to call for the urgent introduction of a 28-day time limit.