Comments on my earlier post justly accused me of having done little research about the private company Serco, which runs four UK prisons, and, it turns out, detention centres for immigrants.
So I’ve done a little research.
Dovegate prison’s 200 bed theraputic community (TC) was “a very safe place” according to a recent report by the chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales. However, the chief inspector also stated that “it was of concern that selection [of prisoners] was apparently being skewed by commercial imperatives. This was neither appropriate nor fair, and it mitigated against the integrity of therapy…”
Not exactly encouraging but, I acknowledge, hardly a resounding condemnation either.
Far more disturbing are the reports on how Serco runs detention centres.
A 2006 Legal Action for Women (LAW) investigation into Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre, before SERCO took over, found that: 70% of women had reported rape, nearly half had been detained for over three months, a staggering 57% had no legal representation, and 20% had lawyers who demanded cash before taking action. Women reported sexual and racial intimidation by guards.” LAW’s Self-Help Guide is now being confiscated by guards depriving women of information about their rights.
Since SERCO took over conditions have deteriorated.
What’s perhaps most disturbing is that I could find no mainstream news reports, besides one article in the New Statesman, even mentioning the May hunger strike by women detainees at Yarl’s Wood. A hunger strike is a pretty desperate course of action to take. Those who are cynical about the motives of those participating would do well to sample the living conditions of the strikers before dismissing them.
Alice O’Keeffe concludes her article in the New Stateman:
I entered thinking I belonged to a civilised and fair society; I left feeling very differently.
A reaction not too far removed from my feelings on that sunny section of Fleet Street where I encountered prisoners being anonymously transported. We should know who we’re locking up.
Further required reading on the subject must be this article in the Guardian describing the work of the Medical Justice network.
Update (5/10/07): The Independent reports that “British guards ‘assault and racially abuse’ deportees”. More details emerged a few days later, as anger built against airlines involved in forcible deportation of refugees.