Inmates at one of Britain’s largest jails walked around “like zombies” while high on drugs in scenes likened to a war zone, the Prisons Inspectorate reveals.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons also makes renewed calls for an independent inquiry as to how HMP Birmingham descended into appalling, chaotic conditions in just 18 months.

Prisoners at crisis-hit HMP Birmingham flouted rules without challenge from staff, many of whom were “anxious and fearful” as they went about their duties, HM Inspectorate of Prisons found.

Its report said: “We witnessed many prisoners under the influence of drugs, and some openly using and trafficking drugs around the site.

“Shockingly, some staff were ambivalent and accepting of such behaviour, and failed to respond to this overt drug misuse.”

On one occasion, when inspectors reported smelling drugs an officer was said to have “shrugged and laughed”, while another said they had “only just come on duty”, according to the report.

It quoted one prisoner describing a wing at the jail as “a war zone” with inmates “walking around like zombies, high on Spice”.

Spice, a psychoactive substance, has been identified as a major factor in the safety crisis that has hit much of the prisons estate in England and Wales.

At the time of the inspection in the summer, HMP Birmingham was run by G4S.

In the wake of the visit, Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke triggered the “urgent notification” scheme to demand immediate action from the Government.

As the first details of his findings emerged in August, the Ministry of Justice announced it was taking over the running of the prison for at least six months.

Publishing the full inspection report on Tuesday, Mr Clarke renewed his call for an independent assessment into how the prison had been allowed to “slip into crisis”.

He said: “Why was it that those with responsibility for Birmingham either did not see these problems unfolding or seemed incapable of acting decisively when they did?

“Put simply, the treatment of prisoners and the conditions in which they were held at Birmingham were among the worst we have seen in recent years.”

The inspectorate’s report said:

– In the previous 12 months, there had been more assaults at the establishment than at any other local prison

– Frightened and vulnerable prisoners “self-isolated” in locked cells but could not escape bullying and intimidation

– Control in the prison was “tenuous”, with staff often not knowing where prisoners were

– Many cells were dirty, cramped and overcrowded

– The prison was failing in its responsibility to protect the public by preparing prisoners adequately for release, including hundreds of sex offenders

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 spokeswoman said: “The well-being 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.

Mr Clarke added:

“The challenges facing this prison are huge;managers and staff need support if they are to turn the establishment around.

“The helpful action plan published by the Secretary of State provides an important framework for progress and is a start, but there also needs to be accountability among those implementing the plan.

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

“It will undoubtedly take some time for Birmingham to make the improvements needed, and as an Inspectorate we leave the prison with a number of recommendations.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales writes:

‘The Chief Inspector of Prisons renews calls for an independent inquiry as to how G4S allowed HMP Birmingham, one of Britain’s biggest jails, to descend into appalling, chaotic conditions in just 18 months…’?

Hold on, let’s read that again.

“The Chief Inspector renews calls for an ‘independent inquiry'”?

That’s like the surgeon in theatre ordering that the patient on his operating table be taken to hospital.

They’re already in a hospital – and the Prisons Inspectorate is already ‘independent’.

Who then is better placed than the Prisons Inspectorate, with statutory independence and all expertise and experience that they have on tap to find out exactly what happened at Birmingham, if not the Prisons Inspectorate itself?

It sounds awfully like they’ve ‘fessed up’ to not being up to the job.

Or could it be they’ve recognised that any truly independent inquiry into Birmingham is inevitably going to find that the Prisons Inspectorate and Independent Monitoring have their own contributing failures to answer for?

The unpalatable truth for the Prisons Inspectorate is this:

Our prisons are in the mess they are largely because the Prisons Inspectorate have been quietly complicit in a system that has allowed governments over the last ten years to routinely ignore Prison Inspectorate recommendations with impunity.

I wrote an investigative article about this a year ago in The Independent, an article that (welcome by-product of another process or not I don’t know) saw the Urgent Notification procedure being signed four months later – but the fact is the Prisons Inspectorate doesn’t have clean hands here.

Yes the Urgent Notification procedure is a huge improvement, I welcome it, but I’ve never understood why we have to wait until a jail is in complete security, safety and control meltdown, warranting an Urgent Notification, before corrective action is taken?

Every recommendation of the Prisons Inspectorate should be seen as an ‘urgent notification’ – because unless it is, inevitably one day that is precisely what it is destined to become.

Read the Report here.

css.php