Home Immigration News Suicides in immigration detention centres kept ‘state secret’ by Home Office, MPs told

Suicides in immigration detention centres kept ‘state secret’ by Home Office, MPs told

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Author: May Bulman

Self-inflicted deaths in removal centres are being kept a “state secret” by the Home Office, according to the expert commissioned by the government to carry out a review of the immigration detention estate.

Former prison ombudsman Stephen Shaw, who has produced two major reports on immigration removal centres (IRCs), told MPs it was “odd and frankly self-defeating” that the department did not make the numbers of detainee deaths public.

Figures collated by Inquest show there were six deaths in immigration removal centres last year – four of which were self-inflicted, making it the highest year for suicides on record. As of April 2018, the charity’s figures show there had been 35 deaths since 2000 – 14 of which were self-inflicted.

Speaking to the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday, Mr Shaw raised concerns about the fact that the Home Office did not conform to the practice followed by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) of publishing data on deaths of immigration detainees.

“I find it frankly odd and self-defeating that the Home Office doesn’t face the normal practice in the MoJ of making a statement when there is an apparently self-inflicted death in detention. I think they should do so routinely,” he said.

“These shouldn’t be state secrets. One of the consequences is that you see different figures bandied around. This is all complete nonsense.”

He added: “There’s too much secrecy generally – I want to see it opened up. I think it’s outrageous that there should be any question other than that those figures are made routinely available.”

Mr Shaw said transparency around the figures was important in order for the government to prevent such deaths in future, adding: “The Home Office doesn’t learn enough from self-inflicted deaths in IRCs and serious acts of self-harm.

“I think it should address the problem face on – what are the levels of suicide and self-harm we are facing? Is our response appropriate? This is deaths of people in the care of the state and there shouldn’t be any secrecy in that.”

It comes amid mounting concern about poor mental health among people detained in removal centres. Figures obtained by The Independent in April show more than one person a day needed medical treatment for self-harming in UK detention, with the number of detainees on regular “suicide watch” also on the rise.

The inspectorate of prisons warned a month earlier that the Home Office was holding torture victims with high levels of mental health need in immigration detention in breach of the law. Peter Clarke cited “considerable failings” in safety and respect for detainees and said “insufficient” attention was given to post-traumatic stress and other mental health problems.

Inquest, which compiles information on deaths from casework and monitoring, said that overall – when including deaths of immigration detainees in both IRCs and prisons, and within five days of being released from detention – there have been 17 deaths between January 2015 and August 2018.

Of these deaths, nine were self-inflicted, one was classified as drug related, one was through homicide, and six were non-self-inflicted.

In 2017, there were a total of 11 deaths, marking an unprecedented rise as previously the annual number had ranged between one and five.

Lucy McKay, policy and communications officer at Inquest, said the Home Office’s public response to deaths of immigration detainees was “one of denial, delay and obfuscation”.

“They do not publish data, only confirm that deaths have occurred if asked, and generally avoid or delay this confirmation,” she continued.

“We rely on information shared between other NGOs, and cannot be certain that we are aware of all deaths. This is in contrast with the practices of the Ministry of Justice and prison service following deaths in prison.

“Transparency is an essential part of democratic accountability. It allows the public and civil society organisations to monitor the protection of detainees’ rights. The clandestine culture of the Home Office must change.”

During the committee hearing, Mr Shaw also expressed concerns that large numbers of vulnerable people were being locked up before their mental health needs are assessed.

“The assessment of vulnerability occurs far too often in an IRC healthcare environment and not before the decision to detain the person has been made,” he said.

“I’m concerned that we start worrying about the vulnerability after the clang of the gate, and we know relatively little before that.”

Source: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/immigration-detention-centres-uk-suicides-prison-deaths-home-office-a8533366.html

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