Beds, Herts & Bucks

Yarl's Wood: 'Too many pregnant women held'

Yarl's Wood detention centre
Image caption An inspector says too many pregnant women were held at Yarl's Wood when he visited in July

Too many pregnant women were held at a Bedfordshire immigrant removal centre, an inspection report says.

Prisons' chief inspector Nick Hardwick said seven expectant mothers were at Yarl's Wood in July.

He said pregnant women should only be held at the centre under exceptional circumstances and changes were needed despite recent improvements.

The UK Border Agency said pregnant women were held as part of a fast-track process or where removal was imminent.

The inspector raised concerns over the monitoring of the seven women when monthly reports mentioned the pregnancy of only one.

When the inspection was carried out in July, the centre held 229 women and 27 male partners.

The inspector examined the UK Border Agency case files of five of the pregnant women and raised concerns that their condition was not being monitored.

Health care was generally satisfactory and many detainees said they were treated with respect by staff.

The inspection found little evidence of bullying and Mr Hardwick said women at risk of suicide or self-harm were generally well cared for.

However, there were concerns that the number of female staff was too low and men were sometimes left in sole charge of units at night.

'Very vulnerable women'

Mr Hardwick said: "Yarl's Wood is a unique facility dealing with sometimes very vulnerable women at a difficult time of their lives.

"However, concerns remain, particularly about how the needs of vulnerable women are met."

A UK Border Agency spokesman said: "Pregnant women are only detained in exceptional circumstances as part of a fast-track asylum process or where removal is imminent.

"Detainees have access to healthcare facilities and medical advice at all times."

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