Government takes back control of Birmingham prison

2 Apr 19

The government has stripped a private firm of its contract to manage Birmingham prison, it has announced.

The prison, which was temporarily brought back under state control in August 2018, will now be controlled full time by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service due to concerns over prisoner safety.

Security firm G4S agreed to hand back its 15-year contract, which began in 2011, admitting it was “in the interests of staff and the company to do so”.

The prison was found to be violent and unsafe, by the prisons watchdog, who found 71% of prisoners reported feeling unsafe.

Prisons minister Rory Stewart said: “I am confident that HMP Birmingham has made good progress since the ‘step-in’ but to build on this, the prison needs stability and continuity.

“That is why we have mutually agreed with G4S that the public sector is better placed to drive the long-term improvements required and the contract will end.”

Stewart - who previously committed to resign if prison performance did not improve – added: “Our priority remains safety of prisoners and staff but this move to restore and consolidate order at one of outmost challenging jails will ultimately make sure that we are better protecting the public.”

John Tizard, public services commentator, told PF: “The decision to take HMP Birmingham back into public management is a further example of the public sector having to step in when outsourcing fails.

“This is yet another demonstration that the public sector will always bear the risks when it outsources. And this case again raises more question about the efficacy of public service outsourcing.”

Concerns were raised in August 2018 by Peter Clarke, HM chief inspector of prisons, whose report highlighted “squalor, violence, prevalence of drugs and a looming lack of control”. In response to Clarke’s report, the government said it would temporarily take control of the prison.

HMPPS has agreed a settlement with G4s paying £9.9m to cover the additional cost of the ‘step-in’ action – including additional HMPPS staff.

Up to 240 prisoners were moved from the prison following a 12-hour riot in 2016.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard for Penal Reform, said: “G4S have failed, and the government is right to bring Birmingham back into the public sector.

“But ministers’ decision to send in more officers while shipping out hundreds of prisoners was a tacit admission that chronic overcrowding and staff shortages were the root causes.”

Jerry Petherick, G4S custodial and detention services managing director, said: “HMP Birmingham is an inner-city remand prison which faces exceptional challenges including high levels of prisoner violence towards staff and fellow prisoners.

“We believe that it is in the best interests of staff and the company that management of this prison is transferred to HMPPS and we will work closely with the Ministry of Justice to ensure a smooth transition over the next three months.”

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