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Mental health in immigration detention: A comparison of foreign national ex-prisoners and other detainees

Prof Cornelius Katona
Piyal Sen, Grace Cowley, Claira Moro, Karen Slade, Al Aditya Khan, Andrew Foster
Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health



People held in immigration removal centres have a range of vulnerabilities relating both to disappointment at imminent removal from the country of hoped-for residence and various antecedent difficulties. An important subgroup in the UK is of foreign national ex-prisoners who have served a period of incarceration there. Prisoners generally have higher rates of mental disorders than the general population. It is, however, not clear whether foreign national ex-prisoners in UK immigration removal centres have higher rates of mental disorders than other detainees.


To compare the screened prevalence of mental disorders, levels of unmet needs and time in detention between foreign national ex-prisoners and others in Immigration Removal Centres in England.


We conducted a secondary analysis of cross-sectional survey data from a previously published study in one Immigration Removal Centre.


The 28 foreign national ex-prisoners had been in immigration detention for longer and reported greater levels of unmet needs than the other 66 detainees. The highest levels of unmet needs among the foreign national ex-prisoners were in the areas of psychological distress and intimate relationships. After adjusting for time spent in detention, there was evidence to suggest that foreign national ex-prisoners had a higher screened prevalence of substance use disorders, autism spectrum disorders and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder than the other detainees.

Conclusions/Implications for Clinical Practice

This study supports the view that foreign national ex-prisoners are a vulnerable group within immigration detention who have needs for enhanced and specialist service provision, including appropriate arrangements for health screening and active consideration to alternatives to their detention.