Female detainees were forced to mix with men with a history of sexual violence against women in an immigration centre due to Covid restrictions, a report has found.
Concerns have been raised about Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre in Lanarkshire, after inspectors found women had to be escorted around the site to make sure they were safe from some of the male detainees.
The report said before the pandemic, these men were held in a separate unit with controlled access to common parts of the centre.
But due to Covid “infection control arrangements”, this was no longer considered possible and women had to be accompanied on site.
Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, wrote a recommendation to the Home Office saying: “Detainees who pose risks to women should not be held in a centre with a mixed population.”
The report said the centre’s safer detention policy had improved with regards to care of women compared to the last inspection in 2018.
But the most recent report showed the matter was “not discussed substantively”, other than stating that the centre was holding men who presented a risk to women, and that the monthly safer detention meeting was “poorly attended”.
Twenty-one women had been held in the six months before the inspection, and 44% of frontline operational staff were women.
Inspectors said the equality policy was “underdeveloped” and there was no female detainee liaison officer.
The report also found detainees at Dungavel had been held for lengthy periods “with little prospect of being removed within a reasonable time”.
It referenced one man who had been held for almost a year, although he had no travel documents and flights to his home country were “very restricted”.
Some long-held detainees had also been assessed as “level 3 adults at risk” – the highest risk level – which meant the Home Office accepted that ongoing detention was having a negative impact on their health and well-being.
Others were held despite the Home Office accepting that they were victims of torture, the report said.
Among staff generally, Mr Taylor said: “There remained a positive culture focused on detainee welfare, and this was reflected in many conversations we had with staff and in our observations of the way that staff and detainees related to each other around the centre.”
He did, however, raise concerns over some staff members rushing their interaction with detainees and not spending enough time to explain the circumstances thoroughly of those being held.
Mr Taylor added: “Many detainee custody officers complained of low morale and understaffing.
“While we saw no evidence that this discontent had yet affected the treatment of detainees or safety in the centre, it had the potential to become a more significant concern as the population increased and required sustained leadership attention.”
Inspectors said there had been a “much needed investment” in the centre, with “substantial refurbishment and decoration of many areas”, including a welcoming visits area.
Mr Taylor said: “The centre remained fundamentally safe, providing a relaxed and calm environment where levels of violence were very low.”
Mental health services at the centre were “good” and detainees had access to a range of activities including a library and a gym on site.
The inspectorate did recommend “more needed to be done” to ensure that detainees had enough activity and time in the open air to support mental and physical wellbeing, including repairing the centre’s all-weather pitch to allow detainees access to outdoor sports facilities.
Social networking sites are also routinely blocked at the centre, but the report said detainees should only be prevented from accessing the sites based on an individual risk assessment.
Inspectors visited Dungavel in July and August this year.