Exploring Everyday Practice and Resistance in Immigration Detention

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography


Detention is a pressing empirical, conceptual, and political issue. Detained populations, detention facilities, and industries have expanded globally. We argue that developments in detention practices have not been given the academic attention they deserve and that a multi-disciplinary approach can shed light on some of the most salient issues that detention expansion raises. These include the everyday experience of detention which is still only poorly understood, the complex relationship between detention and borders, the flows of material and policies between detention and mainstream incarceration, the ways in which detention might be resisted, the ethical/methodological challenges of studying detention, and the meaning and methods of 'supporting' detainees. Operating through these issues are contradictory sets of logics such as the containment of immigrants in order to secure their exclusion, the extra-territorial detention of immigrants in order to secure territory, the indefinite and lengthy detention of immigrants in order to expedite their removal, and the shrouding of detention and removal in a language of voluntarism and co-operation. The first principle of this seminar series is that a multi-disciplinary approach to detention practices that combines both academics and non-academics will allow us to unpack these numerous and powerful contradictions in contemporary detention practice.

The UK has experienced a range of changes to its own detention regime in recent years, including the fast-tracking of many immigration detainees (resulting in a pared down legal process), the privatisation of detention facilities (which has implications for the comprehensiveness of care offered to detainees, see Flynn and Cannon, 2009), and the expansion of the detention estate, albeit through the construction of privately run, secure facilities for immigrants that the British government does not recognise as detention. This said, a number of features of detention in the UK have also remained remarkably resilient to change, including the continued use of indefinite detention despite the overwhelming majority of European countries implementing a time limit (Detention Action, 2010; Schinkel 2009), the prohibition on paid work whilst in detention and the detention of children (Crawley, 2011; BID, 2011). The UK is also among the most active countries in terms of interdiction and detention of would-be immigrants during their journeys (Mountz, 2010).

By bringing together a range of established academics, early-career academics, postgraduates, practitioners, artists, activists, asylum seekers and former detainees this seminar series will investigate the ways in which the UK experience of detention reflects and re-produces the contradictory logics inherent in modern global detention practices. Through five one-day workshop events the seminar series will span the academic disciplines of criminology, geography, politics and sociology in order to examine the phenomenon of detention as it relates to supporting detainees, penology and prisons, everyday experiences of detention and the politics of, and resistance to, detention practices. Additional themes that will overlay these various workshops, to be held in London, York, Birmingham, Oxford and Lancaster include the ethical/methodological challenges that the study of detention produces and the tension, running throughout work in this area, between outright resistance to detention practices or a reformist approach based on working with the state on behalf of immigration detainees (Gill, 2010).

Planned Impact

The series will produce 5 outputs. First, a submitted letter to a broadsheet newspaper (e.g. The Guardian), indicating common concerns of participants. Second, an academic special issue will be sought - e.g. in Citizenship Studies or Journal of Refugee Studies. Third, the seminar series will lead to a research proposal to the ESRC that will reflect the concerns and research needs of the detention sector community. Fourth, the seminars will be recorded as Podcasts on a webpage which will constitute an academic and policy resource in the future. And Fifth, regular blogposts will describe the seminars as they unfold.

Who will benefit?

Bearing these in mind, there are 4 group beneficiaries: 1) detention sector practitioners, 2) detainee support organisations, 3) detainees themselves and 4) the general public. Detention sector practitioners consist of detention policy makers, detention centre managers and a range of service staff that provide 'security', as well as food, education, IT and health-related support to detainees. Prominent organisations included in this group are the private companies that provide detention related support, the Ministry of Justice, the United Kingdom Border Agency and the Chief Inspectorate of Prisons. Second, detainee support organisations will benefit. This group includes international (e.g. International Detention Coalition; Global Detention Project), legally-focussed (e.g. Asylum Aid and Bail for Immgiration Detainees), health related (e.g. Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture and the Red Cross), and general detainee support groups (e.g. Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees, Refugee Action and Refugee Council). Third, the seminars will benefit former, existing and future detainees. Fourth, they will raise general public awareness of issues around detention.

How will they benefit?

Gill and Bosworth have contact with detention sector practitioners in UKBA and MoJ that will be invited to participate (the chief inspectorate of prisons has already confirmed). Detention practitioners will also be invited to view and comment on the Podcasts via emails that list the key points in each seminar, based on the blog post of the event (see Pathways to Impact). The seminars will also increase the networking and lobbying powers of organisations that have regular interaction with ministers and officials overseeing detention e.g. Refugee Council (participation confirmed).

Detainee support groups will benefit from the opportunity to share their concerns, develop strategic responses to developments in the sector, meet like-minded organisations and think about their practice in new ways. The seminars will also be a key opportunity to alert participants to the ways in which academic research can support their work. Academics are in a superb position to alleviate pressure on organisations as a result of their specialism in research (much research in the sector is currently in-house) and their access to research funding sources that non-academic organisations cannot access. A principle benefit of the seminars will therefore be to link non-academic migrant support groups with academics through capacity building work, with the particular objective of forming a research proposal to the ESRC as a result of the seminars.

The seminars will involve the participation of former detainees, giving them the opportunity to share their experiences with a range of interest groups (their participation in Oxford's seminar is confirmed and their partipication at the other seminars will be invaluable). The seminars will also improve the network capacity of the detainee support community.

The general public will be reached through making the seminars available online to a general audience and writing to a broadsheet newspaper to submit a statement about UK detention. The letter to a broadsheet newspaper letter will contain a reference to the website at which the seminars are available.
Description This seminar series grant set out to develop a community of scholars who share an interest in immigration detention, as well as to provide a platform through which detainees, activists and charity workers could share and express their experiences of detention. Central to this project is the seminar series website listed below, and the email list of participants and attendees that has been developed over the lifespan of the grant. The website includes summaries of the events and recordings of a wide variety of speakers downloadable from the site. The project has also underpinned a variety of written outputs, from journal articles to a submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Immigration Detention in the UK that was published in March 2015. Our submission, under the collective name of 'asylum-network' drew attention to the effects of detainee mobility around the detention estate, as well as the consequences of secondary trauma in the sector among guards and others working within immigration detention and was cited on numerous occasions in the Cross-Party Parliamentary report. Over the duration of the seminar series all of investigators have written monographs that discuss issues related to immigration detention (Bosworth, Inside Immigration Detention (Oxford University Press); Hall, Border Watch (Pluto Press); Gill, Nothing Personal (Wiley-Blackwell); Moran, Carceral Geography (Ashgate); Tyler, Revolting Subjects (Zed Books). The investigators are now in conversation about future funded project plans moving forward. The seminar series also led to an invitation to join the Detention Forum, which is a network of activists and charities working to end immigration detention in the UK. Only organisations can join the detention forum, and so it was agreed that a selection of the investigators joined under the name 'Asylum-Network'. The participation of the group in the Detention Forum, and in particular the subgroup on judicial oversight in immigration detention, informed the Parliamentary Inquiry into Immigration Detention once again, and also has led to promising research avenues with other members of the detention forum who are interested in taking forward some of the ideas for future research produced by the seminar series.
Exploitation Route It is our intention that the website provides a resource for asylum seekers, including those who are detained, as well as advocacy and activist groups working in this area. The website will also provide a useful teaching resource for undergraduates (Gill has already used it in his own teaching). The website will also form a useful platform to engage in ideas for further research in the future. Additionally, the website is likely to form a useful resource for academics researching in this area, especially for those who are new to the issues surrounding immigration detention. Other outputs from the project, including the submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry, seek to raise the profile of issues relating to immigration detention in the UK locally and nationally.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://immigration-detention-seminar-series.org/
Description The Seminar Series established a relationship between the PI and the charity Detention Action that led to a collaboration that helped to change the law relating to the 'Fast Track Rules' applying to some asylum seekers in Detention in the UK.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description A Future Without Immigration Detention 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Invited Chair and Break-Out Group Leader
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity