Week 8: #Unlocked17 visits Morton Hall

This is Morton Hall detention centre in Lincolnshire, the focus of the eighth week of the Unlocking Detention tour. Up to 392 people – all men – may be detained here at any one time. It was turned from a prison to an immigration removal centre in 2011, though, like most other centres, it still feels like a prison.
It is one of two centres still run by the Prison Service – though it will soon be the only one (the other is the Verne, set to close soon).


The latest report of HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), published this year, said that at least three children had been detained at Morton Hall in the previous year; and that some of these detentions “were prolonged as a result of wrangling between different local authorities over responsibility for assessing age”. One child was held for 151 days.
The report said that too many people in general were being detained in Morton Hall for prolonged periods: the average length of detention was over three months. 31 people had been held for over a year, including three who had been detained for over two years. Two men had been detained on separate occasions totalling more than three years.
The report also identified a threefold increase in self-harm since the previous inspection. In the year preceding the inspection, four people had narrowly escaped fatal or serious injuries as a result of self-harm. The report stated that “The causes of self-harm had not been sufficiently analysed and there was no strategy to reduce it.”
Since that report was published, four people have died at Morton Hall. There have been ten deaths in detention centres across the UK in the last twelve months. In a recent interview, Mishka from Freed Voices said indefinite detention must end: “we cannot wait one, two, three, four years. We need it now. People are dying.” At a parliamentary meeting last month, Kasonga, another member of Freed Voices, highlighted the recent deaths in detention and said, “Detention reform cannot wait. It has become an emergency situation.”

Experts-by-Experience

The first blog of the week explored the psycho-geography of detention centres, based on a mapping exercise conducted by Freed Voices. One of these maps was drawn by Michael, who has been based in the UK since he was 12, and who was detained in Morton Hall for two and a half years.


Also this week, we published a conversation between Detention Action and John*(not his real name), who was recently released after ten months detained in Morton Hall. John de-bunks some of the Home Office’s stock phrases about detention.
For example, the Home Office say, “We do not have indefinite detention in this country.” To this, John says,

“Altogether, I have been detained 16 months, three different times. This response from the Immigration Minister just shows you how in denial they are. They are desperately trying to justify a lie. They are literally dancing around the word. It’s actually pretty embarrassing, really. I think they are maybe also just ashamed of what they are doing in detention and that is why they can’t face up to the truth of the situation.”

Of the deaths in Morton Hall this year, John said,

“I experienced two deaths in the ten months I was in Morton Hall. When the Polish guy died, all they did was put up a tiny notice. When my friend Spencer died, they tried to cover the whole thing up as quickly as possible. It was incredibly traumatic. Especially for those close to him. There were no follow-up questions, no support for the depression we all felt. It was very, very difficult – harder than the sixteen months, to be honest.”

Also this week, Umar* shared his story in order to raise awareness about the plight of LGBTI asylum-seekers and refugees.
Umar first came out in a detention centre, to an immigration officer. “He wore a suit and had a badge. I didn’t like that I had to speak to him about my sexuality. I felt scared because I didn’t know if what I said would be kept a secret. But I had no choice, I had to tell him. I was very nervous as this was the first time I had told anyone that I was gay.”
Umar is now free from detention, but feels compelled to fight the injustice he suffered for the benefit of others. Umar says,

“I do not want any refugee, especially a LGBTI refugee, to go through this. Being in detention I was always scared, it was a prison also for my brain and my heart.”

You can read the full piece here.

Also on the blog this week:

On Tuesday, we heard from Rachel Robinson, Advocacy Manager for Liberty, who argued why now is the time to end the practice of indefinite detention, once and for all. It’s a clear and powerfully-argued piece: read it here.


In Wednesday’s blog, Bill MacKeith, joint organiser of the Campaign to Close Campsfield, reported on the recent 24th anniversary demonstration at Campsfield House, attended by Oxford’s two MPs. You can also catch up on the #Unlocked17 visit to Campsfield House here.


Next week is the final stop on the #Unlocked17 tour. We’ll be virtually visiting Dungavel, in Scotland.

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