Young people claiming to be children should not be imprisoned in adult detention centres purely on the say so of immigration officials, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has said.
In his annual report, the Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick deemed the current policy which allows immigration officials to decide how old people are just by looking at them as ‘inappropriate’.
If an immigration official decides a young asylum seeker looks as though they are over 18, the official has the power to throw the young person behind bars alongside adults.
We’re calling for a change to the rules which mean that everyone who claims to be a child is able to have a timely and sensitive age assessment carried out by a trained expert. We think it’s unacceptable that children can find themselves imprisoned based on a quick glance.
The Chief Inspector’s report also revealed that in the last year inspectors had uncovered 15 people behind bars who claimed to be children.
Inspectors were particularly concerned to discover a 16-year-old in detention, who had been held in error for 62 days at Campsfield House. In another case at Dover, a young detainee had submitted a copy of his birth certificate to the Home Office but had been incorrectly told that a copy was ‘not sufficient’.
We work to secure the release of children who are wrongly held alongside adults. In the last five years, we’ve managed to get 120 children out from behind bars.
Refugee Council Policy Manager Judith Dennis welcomed the report, saying: “The Government’s existing policy is disgracefully putting the safety of vulnerable children at risk.
“It’s impossible to definitely say how old someone is just by looking at them so it’s ludicrous that the Government thinks it’s acceptable to base decisions to detain on the guesswork of non-specialist officials.
“Surely now the Government must abandon this unscientific and unjustifiable policy and instead concentrate on ensuring that children are properly protected.”
Elsewhere in his report, the Chief Inspector of Prisons expressed concern about the wrongful imprisonment about torture survivors and condemned the Government for unnecessarily detaining people for long periods of time in prison like conditions without access to good quality legal advice.