‘A Secret Punishment’: The Misuse of Segregation in Immigration Detention

59 Pages Posted: 17 Feb 2017

Date Written: 2015


Segregation – a secret punishment draws on case studies from Medical Justice’s work in IRCs to shed light on the solitary and secretive world of segregation. Segregation is one of the most severe and dangerous sanctions that can be imposed on detainees. The devastating impact of segregation on mental and physical health is widely recognised. Still there is little regulation or scrutiny of the use of segregation in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs). Despite repeated damning critique from independent inspectors the over use and misuse of segregation continues in IRCs across the UK. Lack of central monitoring means there is little reliable data and significant discrepancy in rates reported, with an estimated 1200 – 4800 detainees segregated annually. This research identifies worrying trends such as prolonged segregation, the use of segregation as punishment, and segregation of the mentally ill or those at risk of self-harm. Some detainees are inappropriately segregated for months and even years, with one detainee being segregated more or less continuously for 22 months. One detainee was only removed to psychiatric hospital following 80 days in segregation whilst another was segregated more than 8 times during her 800 days in detention. Since the completion of the research the High Court has ruled that by treating a detainee as someone who was showing disruptive behaviour rather than mental illness and placing her in segregation, sometimes with force, this constituted a breach of her rights under Article 3 of the European Human Rights Convention.

Keywords: segregation, solitary confinement, immigration detention, UK, immigration removal centers, mental health

Suggested Citation

Harris, Kris, ‘A Secret Punishment’: The Misuse of Segregation in Immigration Detention (2015). Medical Justice, October 2015; Criminal Justice, Borders and Citizenship Research Paper No. 2919299. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2919299

Kris Harris (Contact Author)

Medical Justice NGO ( email )

United Kingdom

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