Jail inspector criticises use of truncheons at immigration centre

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The Independent Online

Staff in charge of an immigration centre housing failed asylum-seekers are regularly armed with wooden staves to keep order, despite the fact that such weapons are banned in low-security jails, the chief inspector of prisons has discovered.

Anne Owers will call today for an end to the practice at Lindholme removal centre, which gives temporary accommodation to almost 100 failed asylum- seekers and illegal immigrants who are about to be deported. She also paints a grim portrait of conditions at Colnbrook removal centre at Heathrow airport, warning it is "at the outer limits of its capacity to cope".

Refugee groups urged the Government lasy night to find a more humane way of keeping track of rejected asylum-seekers.

Although the detainees at Lindholme, near Doncaster, South Yorkshire, have not committed criminal offences, the centre is run by the Prison Service for the Home Office. To Ms Owers' alarm, she found the service had ignored her previous demand for officers not to use the 30cm staves because detainees found them intimidating.

The use of the wooden batons is outlawed in category D prisons and women's jails, as well as immigration removal centres run by private companies.

She said staff should not be allowed to carry "offensive or defensive weapons" and added: "We remained disappointed that the Prison Service, unlike its private-sector counterparts, still routinely issued staves to immigration removal centre staff."

It is understood staves are also used by staff in two other immigration centres run by the Prison Service – at Dover in Kent, and at Haslar in Hampshire.

Ms Owers described Lindholme as "reasonably safe" and said levels of bullying and self-harm were low. But she listed a series of concerns over the regime at Colnbrook, which holds 380 people, most of whom are foreign offenders awaiting deportation after having completed their sentences.

She said conditions had deteriorated at the centre since her last visit two years ago. "Levels of anxiety and fear among detainees were high, compounded by evident frustration at the shortage of effective legal advice and lack of up-to-date information about their cases," she said.

She added that the use of force by staff was high, some detainees spent long periods in solitary confinement, complaints of racism were poorly investigated and drug abuse appeared to have increased. She warned: "Staff and managers conceded that the establishment was at the outer limits of its capacity to cope."