People held in segregation have included :
•    One detainee held in segregation for 22 months
•    One schizophrenic detainee died in segregation
•    One person segregated 8 times during 800 days of detention
•    One person segregated for 9 days because they were a child
•    One woman assaulted with a riot shield while taken to segregation

Alarmingly there is little central monitoring of the use of segregation.

A Secret Punishment

Medical Justice published a research report “A Secret Punishment – the misuse of segregation in immigration detention” which sets out how the damaging physical and psychological impact of segregation is widely recognised and how its misuse in immigration detention has been repeatedly criticised by official inspectorates, yet the abuses continue. It is overused, applied inappropriately and often contravenes the rules.

People in detention with severe mental ill health should not be in detention in the first place, making segregation of such individuals doubly wrong.

“A Secret Punishment” findings include ;

* Suffering from a mental illness should preclude the use of segregation yet people in detention are sometimes segregated because of mental illness.

* Segregation is often used, unlawfully, as a punishment. This is particularly disturbing as detention is not subject to automatic judicial oversight and detainees don’t have access to an adjudication process.

* Segregation is often used to prevent self-harming despite indications it makes matters worse.

* Segregation in immigration detention Involves locking a detained person, who is not accused of any crime, in a solitary cell for up to 23 hours a day.

* Although segregation is recognised as the most severe, limiting and dangerous restriction, there is no independent oversight and minimal monitoring of the extent and conditions of its use.

Death in segregation

The inquest into the death of Prince Fosu at Harmondsworth IRC in March 2020 revealed that Prince was a severely mentally ill man who died in segregation 6 days after he was taken to detention, having received no medical attention whatsoever. He died on the concrete floor of the ‘strip cell’ in segregation with no mattress, having had little if any food, fluid or sleep. He was naked, emaciated, and covered in debris.

The scale of the collapse of all ‘safeguards’ cannot be overstated. The Independent Monitoring Board acknowledge that Prince Fosu died “in plain sight”. During the inquest many were unable to explain why they acted as they did; others gave explanations that were difficult to fathom. Three doctors working for Harmondsworth were reported to the General Medical Council for review. One of the doctors said they did not regard detainees in segregation as patients and that they were only there to ‘fulfil a Home Office legal obligation’. It seemed they stopped acting like doctors when they stepped into Harmondsworth IRC.

Prince was monitored in segregation by four GPs, two nurses, two Home Office contract monitors, three members of the Independent Monitoring Board and a number of detention custody officers – all of whom seemingly failed to apply their humanity.

Solitary confinement in prison of immigration detainees

Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic we witnessed one of the most disturbing evolutions in the use of detention – the regular use of ‘solitary confinement’ and prolonged cell confinement for people detained under immigration powers in prisons.

Since March 2020 many people have been locked in their cells for anything between 22 and 24 hours a day. Behind locked doors, hidden from the public eye many have suffered immense and possibly irreversible harm as a result and they recount living in a state of endless despair:

‘The days and nights blur together during confinement. I can barely sleep at night but when I do I experience nightmares. I’m afraid of sleep because I’ll go back into the nightmare but being awake is also horrible.’

The Government defends its position as a necessary response to COVID-19 but the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (The Mandela Rules) could not be clearer. Prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement is a form of torture which is prohibited.

Medical Justice and Bail for Immigration Detainees published ‘”Every day is like torture” : Solitary confinement & Immigration detention’ in July 2021. Read the report here.


Charles (not his real name), who already had a high-risk mental health condition, experienced a sharp deterioration whilst in solitary confinement. He experienced a high degree of stress with new suicidal thoughts and plans. Solitary confinement is likely to have caused this deterioration and precipitated particular symptoms. He had initially been put into a single cell following government shielding advice. However, this isolation was prolonged beyond the advised 12 weeks of shielding; he was in fact kept in solitary confinement until his release, nearly a year later.