Inspection of Northern Ireland's Immigration Short-Term Holding Facilities
In November 2011 Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) who have responsibility for inspecting the United Kingdom Border Agency's (UKBA) immigration estate conducted their first inspection of two immigration short-term holding facilities in Northern Ireland. Both facilities are managed by Reliance, a private security firm. Although CJI do not have the remit to inspect UKBA, as immigration issues fall under direct rule, Rachel Lindsay from CJI was invited to participate in the inspection in light of CJI's role as part of the National Prevention Mechanism against torture and ill-treatment in detention in Northern Ireland. The reports of the inspections were published on HMIP's website on 2 April 2012.
In July 2011 UKBA opened a residential short-term holding facility in Larne to hold immigration detainees. Detainees were held for short periods prior to their transfer to Dungavel Immigration Centre in Scotland, deportation or being granted temporary admission into Northern Ireland. In addition a second, much smaller holding facility, was located at the UKBA Reporting Centre at Drumkeen House in Belfast.
In line with UKBA’s published policy, the maximum period of detention allowed is five days, or seven if removal directions have already been served. However, in the three months before the inspection, records showed that three detainees had been held in Larne House more than seven days, with one held for more than eight days. Larne House facility was effectively managed by helpful Reliance staff, but there were too many risk averse practices. UKBA had a limited presence at the facility. Custody visitors were due to start routine visits but these had not yet begun.
Unlike many other short term holding facilities, the facility at Drumkeen House did not have dedicated staff. Rather it was opened only when a detainee was held. Staff were called from the escorting teams to staff the facility. During the inspection two detainees were held. The facility comprised a staff office and two identical holding rooms. Thirty-seven detainees were held in the three months before the inspection for an average of one hour and 31 minutes. The longest period of detention was four hours and 31 minutes. UKBA had regular oversight of the facility.