Troubled Birmingham prison ‘violent and unsafe’

6 Dec 18

A prison where the government was forced to step in to assume management control has received a damning report from inspectors.

The prisons watchdog said Birmingham was “exceptionally violent and fundamentally unsafe”, highlighting a climate of fear affected both prisoners and staff.

Some staff who had locked themselves in their office, while 71% of all prisoners reported feeling unsafe at some point during their time at the establishment.

“The prison was exceptionally violent and fundamentally unsafe, with many prisoners and staff living and working in fear,” the inspectors said.

“Many frightened and vulnerable prisoners ‘self-isolated’ in locked cells.”

The report noted a lack of experience amongst staff and highlighted that one third of prisoner custody officers had less than 12 months’ service.

CIPFA and the Institute for Government previously called attention to this experience gap in their Performance Tracker released earlier this year and said that spending cuts have been managed through staff reductions.

Chief inspector Peter Clarke said Birmingham’s challenges were “huge”.

“Managers and staff need support if they are to turn the establishment around.

“It is crucial for there to be transparent, open conversations about the state of the prison and the progress being made.”

Recommendations included reducing violence and anti-social behaviour, improving understanding of the causes of violence, tackling drug supply and use within the prison and effective supervision and training for staff.

One in two prisoners said it was easy to get illicit drugs at the prison. One prisoner described a wing of the prison as “a war zone, inmates walking around like zombies, high on spice [a psychoactive substance]”.

The prison, which has a capacity of 1,450, was previously run by security company G4S before the government took back control in August citing “abject failure of contract management and delivery”.

Prisons minister Rory Stewart said: “We have conducted a full and thorough investigation of the situation at Birmingham to understand the causes, learn lessons and prevent it happening again.

“We will keep a close eye on progress to ensure Birmingham returns to being a place of stability and reform, and we won't hand the prison back until we consider it is safe to do so.”

A G4S spokesperson said: “The wellbeing and safety of prisoners and prison staff is our key priority and we continue to work with the Ministry of Justice to urgently address the issues faced at the prison.”

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