This report documents deaths in immigration detention from 2000 to 2015. It includes deaths that occurred a few days after the person was released from immigration detention.

Immigration removal Centres (IRCs) are notoriously difficult to get information from and gaining insight into ongoing practices can be almost impossible, with requests for access denied and requests for information delayed or refused on grounds of cost or commercial sensitivity.

One tragic exception to this is when a death occurs in detention. Investigations into deaths in detention provide a window into otherwise closed institutions and highlight the ultimate impact of a system that fails to properly protect vulnerable detainees. The Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) is required to carry out a full investigation into all deaths in detention and must be granted access to all personnel and files pertaining to the matter. This is also usually followed up by a public inquest. So with every tragic death comes an opportunity for insight into unsafe systems and practices.

In 2016 Medical Justice decided to pull together all the findings of all the investigations into deaths in detention since 2000. We were able to identify 35 deaths in immigration detention centres, amongst detainees recently released from centres or in people held under immigration powers in prison.

One of the first hurdles in this research was the fact that there is no specific monitoring of these deaths so we couldn’t simply request a list of known deaths amongst people held under immigration powers but had to piece together an overview from formal sources, legal representatives and anecdotal accounts. We believe the list we arrived at is the most complete listing available but if you are aware of others who should be on this list please do let us know.

The PPO reports on these deaths make shocking reading, not merely for the tragic outcome or the systemic failings revealed but for the fact that the same failings are reported year on year in the same centres and cross centres without apparent improvement.

In about half their investigations into deaths the PPO directly criticises healthcare provisions in immigration detention. In 2 cases the inquest jury found that neglect contributed to the death and in others they found that death might well have been avoided if healthcare provision was improved.

The reports highlight 5 main areas of failings:

  1. Failures in immigration processes leading to inappropriate detention of vulnerable detainees. In addition, inadequate safeguard within detention (such as Rule 35) fail to offer intended protection once in detention.
  2. Failure of custody and escort services, such as systemic over-reliance on use of restraints. Investigation into deaths reveal people dying in handcuffs. Inappropriate use of segregation to manage detainees with mental health issues or at risk of self-harm.
  3. Lack of coordination between institutions and providers. This has arguably worsened with the proliferation of providers through subcontracting.
  4. Failures of healthcare: This includes failures in emergency responses, inadequate clinical record keeping, poor staff training, lack of attention to mental health issues and assessments, detention of people with serious physical illness.
  5. Immigration detainees held in prisons: Lack of understanding of the immigration process, inadequate follow- up during key stress points such as serving removal directions, lack of access to legal advice and lack of safeguards such as Rule 35 puts those held under immigration powers in prisons at increased risk.

Death from natural causes and illness is a proper end to life. However, locking people up in detention centres without meaningful judicial oversight is unnecessary as were the deaths in detention. Each death in detention is a tragedy. No one should have to die whilst detained indefinitely, isolated from their community, many facing deportation to a country they have fled in fear. Some of the deaths resulted from catastrophic failures which could have been avoided.