[Marxism] Prisoner revolt erupts after exposure of abuse at UK immigrant jail

Fred Feldman ffeldman at verizon.net
Wed Nov 29 19:43:39 MST 2006

Riot squad fights to regain control of immigration detention centre
. Extensive damage from 'deliberate sabotage'
. Disturbance follows damning watchdog report

Alan Travis and Matthew Taylor
Thursday November 30, 2006


Teams of specialist prison riot squad officers drafted in from across
south-east England were last night still battling to regain control of
Britain's largest immigration detention centre 18 hours after a disturbance
had started.
An emergency operation got under way last night to evacuate a sizeable
proportion of the 482-strong population, made up of immigration detainees
and foreign prisoners facing repatriation, from the privately run
Harmondsworth removal centre, near Heathrow.

Lin Homer, the head of the Home Office's immigration service, last night
accused those involved of "making a deliberate attempt at sabotage in order
to frustrate" their deportation from Britain. She said that no injuries to
staff or detainees had been reported, and 150 low-risk immigration offenders
in other detention centres would now be released to make way for those
evacuated from Harmondsworth.

It is believed that the centre has suffered extensive damage, with furniture
and bathroom fittings wrecked in all four wings and large sections
waterlogged after fires lit by the detainees triggered the centre's
sprinkler system.

The detainees spelled out a makeshift SOS help banner with bedsheets in one
courtyard which was visible to a news company helicopter until the airspace
above the centre was declared a "no fly zone".

The disturbance began hours after the publication of a damning report by the
chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, criticising Harmondsworth's
overemphasis on physical security and describing itself as her poorest ever
report on an immigration centre.

The disturbance coincided with the prison population hitting a record 80,000
in England and Wales for the first time yesterday, and emergency
preparations were being made to release hundreds of low risk immigration
detainees to create room for those to be evacuated from Harmondsworth.

The loss of control at Britain's largest immigration centre underlines the
pressure now faced by the home secretary, John Reid, who was warned
yesterday at a closed symposium on penal policy that the situation inside
overcrowded local prisons was now so volatile it endangered the staff.

The Harmondsworth disturbance follows a riot just two years ago at the
centre, which only opened in 2001. The 2004 riot followed the suicide of a
detainee and the centre had to be closed temporarily.

The Metropolitan police were called to Harmondsworth at 4am yesterday.
Specialist prison officers, known as Tornado teams, were called in when
fires were lit in all four wings of the centre. The fires triggered the
centre's sprinkler system, causing extensive water damage and making large
parts of the centre uninhabitable.

Officers battled through the night and all day yesterday to try to regain
control of all four wings, but by 6pm last night prison officers had managed
to regain full control of only one of the four wings, with some detainees
continuing to defy them in the three other wings. George Mwangi, 30, who
spent several months in Harmondsworth and was released in January, said: "I
received a call last night that a riot had started at Harmondsworth.

"I could hear sounds of chaos in the background. I was told that fires had
been started. I could hear things being smashed up, the sprinklers came on
and the alarm was sounded.

"It sounded as if fixtures and fittings were getting broken ... The
detainees I spoke to told me that the disturbances started because staff
tried to prevent detainees watching the news when the critical inspection
report about Harmondsworth was being talked about."

Solomon Gordon, a detainee at Harmondsworth, told Sky yesterday: "Some of
the people have smashed up the toilets and some other things. We haven't
eaten since yesterday and we only have one bottle of water in our rooms

Harmondsworth is run by Kalyx Ltd, formerly known as United Kingdom
Detention Services. The loss of 500 places at Harmondsworth out of a total
of 2,660 across Britain is a blow to Mr Reid's effort to juggle with the
rising jail numbers.

The official figures showed that there were 79,908 inmates in prisons in
England and Wales yesterday, with a further 152 in police cells under
Operation Safeguard, making a record total of 80,060.

A Home Office spokesman said there were just 317 spare places in the prison
system, but jails across the south-east of England were now full. The
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Nick Clegg, said the position was
now unsustainable: "The overcrowding crisis in our prisons is like watching
a train crash in slow motion."

The report

What the chief inspector of prisons said in a report published this week
about Harmondsworth:

. It is run with a regime as strict as any high security prison
. It has slipped into 'a culture wholly at odds with its stated purpose'
since a 2004 riot

. 44% of detainees said they had been victimised by staff; 60% said they
felt unsafe 

. There is a high use of solitary confinement - 129 times in six months of
2006 - and extensive use of punishment of removal from association

. "This is undoubtedly the poorest report we have issued on an immigration
removal centre" 

. "This is not primarily the fault of staff ... but essentially a problem of

Guardian Unlimited C Guardian News and Media Limited 2006

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