Torture victims left in detention at Yarl’s Wood because of poor case handling
The poor quality of Home Office case handling left many victims of gender-based violence unlawfully detained at Yarl’s Wood, according to the latest report of the HM Independent Chief Inspector of Prisons. Caterina Franci reports
Following an inspection carried out last June, Peter Clarke said that the Home Office continued to detain women despite clear and professional evidence of torture, including victims of rape, and that very little explanation was given as to why people were not being released. In 2015 his predecessor Nick Hardwick said had conditions had deteriorated at Yarl’s Wood to such an extent that it was a ‘place of national concern’.
While recognising that ‘there had been significant improvements at the centre’ since his last inspection, Clarke said that poor and unclear Home Office Rule 35 reports made it difficult to assess detainees’ vulnerabilities and whether or not they should be released. As a consequence, one fifth of the women in Yarl’s Wood continue being detained despite having been assessed as particularly vulnerable.
Rule 35 reports, which are meant to ensure that concerns over rape and torture are brought to the attention of those with direct responsibility for authorising, maintaining and reviewing detention, were being prepared by doctors who had not received enough training and were too inexperienced.
In a worryingly number of instances, the reports were ‘vague, lacked detail and did not adequately address symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder’.
Although detention should only be authorised in exceptional circumstances where professional evidence of torture is provided, this had been overlooked in Yarl’s Wood. ‘Detention had been maintained in most cases … without addressing the exceptional circumstances for doing so,’ Clarke found. ‘In several cases, detention was maintained despite the acceptance of professional evidence of torture’.
In some instances, the Home Office had refused to accept rape as torture without explanation notwithstanding a Court order and a recent High Court judgment that ordered them to apply a broader definition of torture, which would include rape regardless of the perpetrator.
Building on his predecessor’s concerns over indefinite detention, Clarke noted in his report that in the six months preceding the inspection, ‘67% of women had been released into the community, which raised questions about the justification for detention in the first place’. His number one recommendation was that ‘there should be a strict time limit on the length of detention.’
Steve Hewer, the Serco contract director for the Yarl’s Wood, said his staff had ‘worked tirelessly over the past two years to continuously improve our performance at the centre, often in challenging circumstances’.
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award