I am on quite a lot of Committees, I have two small kids and I do not live anywhere near Bedford, but I will give it a go: I will shut the place by stealth if that is what it takes.
What I saw when I visited Yarl’s Wood was not some horrific sort of gulag; there was a visitors centre on the front of what was clearly a prison, on a really weird and eerie estate, and the staff were all completely lovely. It was more than reasonable of them to let me see another person who I had not been down to visit. I did not see any horrors, but given the stories that the women told me, and because I am trained and have an understanding of what it is like for women who have suffered terrible crimes against their person, I can totally understand why they find detention so difficult.
If the detention system has to continue, there is an absolute need to ensure a gender-specific service, exactly as we would commission gender-specific services in our local authorities. No local authority commissioning framework would ever allow a women’s refuge to be run completely by men. We have to stop detaining women who have been victims of brutal and enduring sexual violence without even offering them proper counselling or any support while they are there. None of these women seems to have had anyone talk to them about these problems.
Furthermore, we have to make sure that 28 days actually means 28 days and that the very first questions asked by those processing any women are what has brought them to this country and whether they have been trafficked. We should be using the very good systems put in place by the Government in the national referral mechanism—although they are good only if they are used. In my opinion, Yarl’s Wood should be closed immediately, because the detention system as it stands is not fit for women.