Over the last decade or so, our theory of change has been really important to us at Detention Forum. In a nut shell, this is a document that we worked on together, which sets out how we thought we could bring about change and challenge the use of immigration detention in the UK.

Our current theory of change

We last reviewed our theory change together back in 2017, and we agreed the following key asks:

  1. Ending indefinite detention with the introduction of a 28-day time limit;
  2. Ending the detention of vulnerable people;
  3. Automatic judicial oversight within 72 hours of detention.

We also committed to develop a solutions-based fourth ask:

  1. Development and implementation of community-based alternatives to detention that use quality case-management.

The changing context

Now a lot has changed in our world since 2017. We now have a strong Conservative government with an 80 seat majority in the House of Commons, comprising many new MPs. Yet we also have a government, which had communicated positively about the reduction in size of the detention estate and had begun to construct their alternative narrative to respond to the time limit campaign around such initiatives as the detention gatekeeper and the case progression panels.

We have also seen great momentum achieved on the time limit, and new organisations and networks expressing increased interest in the issue of detention such as faith groups and the City of Sanctuary network. And we have some potential opportunities and threats to our mission such as with the Brook House Inquiry and the immigration implications of the UK withdrawal from the EU.

How might we respond?

When we met recently at our quarterly meeting, we began to discuss how we might now proceed in this new environment further complicated by the huge challenges presented globally by the COVID-19 crisis. And we had to meet on Zoom – there were 33 of us online, and whilst this presents challenges, it is also superb that we can continue to work together despite the national lockdown.

We discussed four possible areas of work for us moving forwards:

The end of immigration detention. For some of us, when we started this work in 2009, the ultimate goal was the end of the use of detention for immigration purposes. Others expressed a view that such a goal was not possible straight away and we would need a more achievable goal that galvanised energy towards a bigger goal. In our initial discussions around the working groups in 2012, we framed a very deliberate purpose for Detention Forum, which is still located on the homepage of our website: immigration detention is not the answer, for anyone. With all of the focus around our self-identified key asks, such as on the time limit, it may be helpful to develop a renewed focus on the ultimate big picture change that we want to see.

Time for a time limit. One reason that we have got to where we’ve got to on this issue is, without a shadow of doubt, the focused attention on the need for a time limit for immigration detention, which shone a spotlight on the current situation. We deliberately used the time limit as an entry point to engage interest in this issue and to suggest a very real tangible change, which would make a dramatic impact to the lives of people in detention.

Do we now need to review our use of #Time4aTimeLimit? Or do we, conscious that it is the pressure that has got us to the point that we’ve reached, seek to find fresh ways to continue this external pressure for a time limit? There seems to be a real value in keeping the pressure up on this issue.

Alternatives to detention. This is a really interesting initiative and there will be opportunities to support the sharing of learning between the providers of these alternative pilots and also to consider how we might ensure that more people can benefit from the learning from these pilots.

The government reform agenda on detention. Whilst it is very easy to be cynical about the inadequacy of such initiatives as the detention gatekeeper role and the case progression panels, it is encouraging to see the government, whilst rejecting the time limit at the moment, feeling the need to construct their own alternative narrative to address the serious concerns revealed by the time limit campaign. Do we need to be working to strengthen this initiative in order to deliver on some of the changes we want to see in the detention estate?

And we need to be clear about how our thinking on vulnerability and judicial oversight fits with this agenda, and how we continue to make our case for change both on the inside and outside. In addition, we also need to consider how we can integrate all these issues with the challenges faced by prison detention.

Next steps

So, we have just started this conversation, but we are keen both to build on our current momentum for change and also to develop the opportunities for change in this new environment. We will keep you posted through our blog, but do please get in touch if you have any ideas or thoughts.