What’s it supposed to be? A laugh a minute? If a prison is merely “depressing”, it’s pretty good

Prison inspectors have called for “urgent action” to address the “wholly unacceptable” conditions at an immigration removal centre connected with Gatwick Airport. The inspection of Tinsley House had been “deeply depressing”, prisons chief inspector Dame Anne Owers said.

Arrangements for children and single women had deteriorated since her last visit in 2007, she went on. She added: “Tinsley House has become almost an afterthought, housing some poorly-cared-for children and a small number of scared and isolated single women.”

The report claims unnecessary force was used on children during the removal of a family, while childcare and education have got progressively worse. Children at the centre were also said to have limited access to fresh air, and the centre’s male-dominated population was described as intimidating for the single women being held.

Tinsley House is run by Group4 Security, a private contractor which manages the centre on behalf of the UK Border Agency. The centre can hold up to 154 detainees, many of whom are suspected of visa violations, illegal entry to the UK, or are awaiting deportation or decisions on asylum applications.

The UK Border Agency’s David Wood said: “We accept the conditions at Tinsley House at the time of the inspection were not ideal but we do not agree that they are wholly unacceptable for women and children. “However, we are nonetheless reviewing our services. Treating women and children with care and compassion is a priority for the UK Border Agency. “Removal centres are a necessary part of enforcing immigration control. It is vital that they are well-run, safe and secure. “Detainees (must be) cared for with respect, with access to a range of medical, educational and welfare facilities.”

About 1,000 children a year are held in privately run Immigration Removal Centres overseen by the UK Borders Agency. Earlier this month a report by the medical organisations in the UK called for an immediate end to the long-term detention of families with children.