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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 June, 2004, 01:01 GMT 02:01 UK
'Prison culture' at asylum centre
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs

Lindholme Prison
Lindholme: Critical report two years ago
The chief inspector of prisons says an asylum detention centre is in a "disgraceful state" despite a critical report demanding change.

Anne Owers said Lindholme Removal Centre still had a "prison culture", including shouting at a detainee for not understanding English.

She said the government should think again about holding asylum seekers in centres run by the Prison Service.

Some 20 men escaped from Lindholme, South Yorkshire, in September 2003.

In the original report published last year, the chief inspector criticised strip searching of detainees even if they had not been charged with any crimes.

Removal centres hold some failed asylum seekers prior to deportation. But officials can also order the detention of any asylum seeker, including children, if they believe they are at risk of absconding.

Samaritans number: Hand scrawled on wall
In the fresh inspection this February, the team found Lindholme had neither shed a "prison culture" nor met four key tests of whether it was an appropriate place to hold people who may not be facing deportation.

Parts of the detention centre were "filthy and dilapidated", according to the report. Telephone rooms were found in a "disgraceful state".

Walls were covered in graffiti including the scrawled number for the Samaritans added by a member of staff.

Payments to detainees were so small some could not afford to make essential phonecalls to family and lawyers.

The team also criticised visiting hours rules and charges for leaflets on bail hearings, prepared free of charge by a national charity.

Prison culture

Ms Owers said Lindholme had a prison culture - including staff calling detainees by just their surnames and a practice of using the neighbouring prison's segregation unit. Detainees were also banned from using an outdoor recreation area after early evening.

Anne Owers
Lindholme was still locked in a Prison Service culture - perhaps the most shocking aspect was the filthy and delapidated state of many communal areas
Anne Owers, Chief Inspector of Prisons

In one case, inspectors saw a detainee "marched" to his room in an apparent attempt at humour. One member of staff shouted at a detainee in the hope that he would understand English. Another Muslim detainee was asked for his "Christian name".

The inspection team praised the centre for ending routine strip searches, creating a multi-faith prayer room and starting surgeries with immigration officials.

But Ms Owers said Lindholme was not a healthy establishment.

"Little had been done to improve the unsatisfactory environment on which we reported a year ago.

"We recommend that [immigration authorities] should seriously examine whether Lindholme is, or can be, an inappropriate place to hold immigration detainees."

Sarah Cutler of Bail for Immigration Detainees, a charity which challenges the holding of asylum seekers, said the report demonstrated a continuing lack of respect of rights of those being held.

We are already looking very carefully at the management and operation of each of the three immigration removal centres which are run by the Prison Service
Des Browne, immigration minister
"What the government tells Parliament about removal centres is different to what is actually happening - and what is actually happening is not even within the rules so it's time they stopped dragging their feet," she said.

"There must be urgent action to protect individuals who are deprived of their liberty despite having committed no crime.

"We are particularly concerned that detainees were being charged for copies of advice on bail that is provided free of charge by our organisation."

Tim Finch of the Refugee Council added: "Lindholme was condemned two years ago, yet the Home Office seems to have done very little to put right the serious problems.

"It was always a mistake for Lindholme to be so closely located to a prison as it was highly likely that the whole centre would operate like a prison."

But immigration minister Des Browne said there had been improvements - including ongoing talks on Lindholme's future.

"Detention is a vital part of an effective immigration system. We take very seriously the criticisms.

"But we have already addressed some of the issues raised in the report, such as the state of the buildings.

"We are also introducing new procedures to make sure immigration officials have oversight of the use of temporary confinement."

Asylum centres branded 'unsafe'
08 Apr 03  |  Politics

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