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Letter to Editor: On prisons: “public money, poor living conditions and indifference to official inspectors’ concerns”

Politics / Wed 10th Jul 2024 at 09:03am

Dear  Editor,

HIS Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons (HMIP) report on Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre released this week (9 July) is deeply concerning in terms of waste of public money, poor living conditions and indifference to official inspectors’ concerns.

This report was due to be published on June 11 but delayed by the general election. This must have been a relief for the outgoing Home Secretary James Cleverly who failed to make any response to concerns raised by HMIP following their 18 day inspection that ended February 29.

The damning press statement by Chief Inspector Charlie Taylor encapsulates the chaos that is the hallmark of 14 years of Conservative government: 

“The level of chaos that we found at Harmondsworth was truly shocking and we left deeply concerned that some of those held there were at imminent risk of harm. Nobody should be detained in an immigration removal centre unless they are going to be removed quickly from the country, yet around 60% of detainees were released from the centre, with only a third deported, which begs the question of why so much taxpayer money was being spent keeping them locked up in the first place.”

Despite finding that much of  Harmondsworth’s accommodation was decrepit, that violence and drug use had substantially increased and there had been numerous serious attempts at suicide a report setting out the many failures sent to the Home Secretary by the Chief Inspector shortly after the inspection did not receive any response.

This situation also demonstrates yet another failure of privatisation as Harmondsworth is run by Mitie Care and Custody. However, to be fair to Mitie they have ‘fessed-up’ to their failures and staff shortages. In mitigation it is worth noting “a shambolic retendering process run by the Home Office, which meant that leaders had no idea whether they would still be running the centre in the next few months. These contractual uncertainties had gone on since the previous year…”

Regards,

David Forman 

Holmes Meadow

Sumners Farm 

Harlow

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4 Comments for Letter to Editor: On prisons: “public money, poor living conditions and indifference to official inspectors’ concerns”:

gary roberts
2024-07-11 06:36:10

These reports just continue a trend on every element of our criminal justice system. Mr Taylor the chief inspector of prisons has produced even grimmer reports on the state of our prison estates including Wandsworth, Feltham, Pentonville et al. Hopefully Mr Timpson the new prisons minister will act swiftly to instigate change. Early release will be political dynamite given the pledges on crime by this government. MP Vince has a clear case to improve policing locally.

David Forman
2024-07-11 07:06:18

Gary Roberts makes a good point about the state of other prisons. Perhaps being a little more creative in sentencing and a greater focus on supporting those who leave prison to reduce reoffending would mitigate the need for early release. Also, as Amnesty International explained this week we need not lock up hundreds of protesters under draconian public order acts.

gary roberts
2024-07-11 08:14:36

In our prisons today sit those on remand because of the 66,000+ backlog in the courts. Also there are many inmates who need medical assistance rather than being locked up for 23 hours a day because of the lack of prison officers in the system and the under investment in education and skills within the estate. Add those on minor breaches of the law and you get chaos, violence, and disorder leading to unsafe conditions and escapes. I would recommend the book by Alex South called "Behind these Doors" and Chris Atkins book called "A Bit of a Stretch: The Diaries of a Prisoner" if you are interested in this area of our criminal justice system.

Gary Roberts
2024-07-11 10:53:00

However, early release can only work if the probation service is fully funded and resourced. It is not currently. Indeed a former Harlow councillor and senior probation officer told me it was in a very poor condition even before Chris Grayling almost destroyed it.

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