Yarl’s Wood will be put under the spotlight as part of an independent review into immigration removal centres.
The highly criticised detention centre, just outside of Bedford, will be looked at under the enquiry, which aims to identify whether improvements can be made to safeguard the health and wellbeing of detainees.
In recent months Yarl’s Wood has been criticised by national charity Women for Refugee Women after detainees reported being watched by men officers while in intimate situations, such as showering or using the toilet. And one woman ended up in hospital on life support after becoming ill at the infamous centre.
Home Secretary Teresa May announced the review this week, which will be led by former prisons and probation ombudsman for England and Wales, Stephen Shaw CBE.
All detention facilities will be inspected along with healthcare provision and Home Office policies and operational practices will be scrutinised.
The review has been welcomed by the Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, who support those being held at Yarl’s Wood.
Co-ordinator Heather Jones said: “There is a high level of mental health issues. We feel very strongly that there are far too many people being detained.
“At least a third to half of people are released rather than returned. A lot of people are being put through what is a very difficult circumstance and then released and it is at great cost to public finances.
“Some people are kept for very long lengths of time, which inevitability affects their mental health.
“If you go into prison you know why you are there and you know when you are going to get out. When you go into detention you don’t know when you are going to leave.”
She said after being released back into the community, some say they still wake up at night thinking they can hear keys and someone opening their door.
“However nice the staff are and many of them are very nice, it doesn’t make being locked up and having your freedom taken away from you and the uncertainty any easier,” said Heather.
The review is expected to take around six months and it is likely to include Mr Shaw speaking to current and former detainees, charities and other organisations.
NE Beds MP Alistair Burt has also welcomed the probe. “It is essential that conditions for detainees are good, and I have raised concerns particularly over mental health facilities on a number of occasions,” he said. “Policy is more difficult, as the length of stay can be uncertain, and I do not think detainees are released early enough when it becomes clear that their intended stay will not be short, which is the point of the centres. I hope he examines this.”
He said the review will also ‘strip away’ some of the secrecy behind the centres.
“I hope the Home Office will allow more media into centres including Yarl’s Wood, which often bears little relation to some of the stories surrounding it.”
The Times &Citizen has requested access into Yarl’s Wood but has so far been refused by the Home Office.