A new phone system run by a private company will replace personal mobile phones in immigration detention centres, according to Corporate Watch, a group which investigates corporate activities.
As a result, detainees will not be able to call free numbers and will have to pay higher rates in order to call their families and lawyers. Furthermore, the new system, which will be connected to a central operating system, will allow immigration authorities and the centre’s prison management to record and monitor all conversations, as well as ending calls.
A spokesperson for the United Kingdom Borders Agency (UKBA) has confirmed an agreement has been reached between the security company G4S and the telecommunications business Global Comms & Consulting Ltd. (GCC) to implement this new system, which has been piloted with prisoners in Tinsley House Detention Centre, located near Gatwick airport, London, since February. The aforementioned G4S is responsible for carrying out these tests, and is responsible for two other UK Detention Centres, in addition to Tinsley.
GCC is a telecommunications business whose headquarters are based in Stamford, Lincolnshire, specialising in security services for governmental agencies and multinational companies. It currently operates similar services to those being tested in Tinsley in some UK prisons. It is hoped that if the initiative is successful other Immigration Detention Centres in the UK will also implement the system.
Business vs. Rights
This new system means the detainees will have to use telephones and cards which will be provided by the centre, and will be more expensive than normal pre-paid phone cards. The new system will not allow calls to free 0800 numbers without buying credit, which means they cannot contact their lawyers and other support organizations providing free phone services for those without credit.
Furthermore, although both the GCC and the UKBA recognize that some “technical difficulties” occurred during the testing period, G4S denies any issues. No formal or independent investigation is expected to take place regarding this new system, except an internal one from the security company G4S itself.
According to sources in the UKBA, the principal objective of this system, which is similar to that used in prisons in the UK, is to have “more control over the detainees’ telephone calls”.
This way, the immigration authorities can listen in on all calls made and received by the detainees, in order to identify any possible “problems”. The authorities can completely shut off the telephone system in the Detention Centre in the event of internal disturbance or riots, thus preventing detainees from contacting support groups and the media.
The British Home Office has previously been embarrassed in recent times due to detainees’ accounts of acts of protest to the press and prisoner sympathy groups. For example, reports of violent attacks by Serco security guards on several women holding a hunger strike in Yard’s Wood detention centre in February last year resulted in a lot of bad publicity for the UKBA or Serco.
More information can be found at the following websites:
(Translated by Marie-Thérèse Slorach)