Birmingham prison awash with drugs

Nick Hardwick - Chief Inspector of Prisons
Nick Hardwick – Chief Inspector of Prisons

Nick Hardwick HM Chief Inspector of Prisons today published his report on HMP Birmingham, operated bny G4S, in which he said the prison had postitive drug levels of almost 20% almost double the target figure:

“When we last visited HMP Birmingham in late 2011 its management had recently transferred from the public sector to G4S following a competitive process. This occurred amid some controversy and was fraught with risk.
Birmingham is a very large inner city local prison serving the local courts, and holding an unusually complex and challenging population. The prison is overcrowded and manages a significant throughput of prisoners, with over 100 passing through reception each day. The operational challenges the prison faced in providing a safe and decent environment were not to be underestimated. In 2011 we recognised that Birmingham had been a failing prison over many years. At the time it was too early to assess how the transition to the private sector was proceeding, although there were some encouraging early signs.
At this inspection we found a prison that, despite undergoing a significant change, was making good progress. Against three of our four healthy prison tests, including the test of safety, outcomes for detainees were reasonably good. The huge turnover of prisoners managed by the establishment was not helped by the long wait in court cells experienced by many prisoners prior to being moved to HMP Birmingham. This and the regular overcrowding drafts meant that they often arrived at reception late in the evening. Given the number of prisoners involved this put first night and induction procedures under great strain with some important action missed.
We found that first night staff were caring and generally did a good job of keeping prisoners safe, with most feeling safe on their first night. Nevertheless and tragically, there had been four self-inflicted deaths since our last inspection, with recent arrival at the prison a common feature. The safety of newly-arrived prisoners was a significant risk that required ongoing and heightened attention. Given the high levels of mental health problems in the population, it was notable that levels of self-harm had reduced over successive years. There was reasonable case management and good care provided to those deemed at risk.
The prison was calm and ordered and most prisoners generally felt safe. The number of violent incidents was not high and while some violence reduction initiatives required more rigour, the safer custody team was well motivated, proactive and known around the prison. Sex offenders were now safely accommodated on G wing, although overspill arrangements were less satisfactory. Despite some good supply reduction work the prevalence of illicit drugs remained stubbornly high. We were persuaded that this in part reflected wider issues in the West Midlands, particularly surrounding more organised criminality.
The prison was proactive in trying to combat this challenge. Substance misuse services to try to tackle demand had improved since the last inspection and ensured a useful range of interventions. The number of prisoners being segregated was commendably low and there was some good support on offer in segregation including some one-to-one work and some reintegration planning. This was better than we normally see although the segregation unit environment itself remained poor. Use of force was also low and management of the process was very good. We found Birmingham to be a more respectful institution than we have seen in previous inspections. Living conditions however, were mixed, ranging from old and tired Victorian wings to a significant amount of newer and better quality accommodation. Cleanliness and access to amenities was good but many cells were doubled up with unscreened toilets. Relationships between staff and prisoners were good and much improved from previous inspections.
The quality of formal prisoner consultation, some of it engaging with outside organisations and former prisoners, was a new strength of the prison. The management of diversity was generally good but support for minority groups remained mixed. Men with high care needs were looked after well, but the needs of some other disabled men were not met consistently. Black and minority ethnic prisoners were generally concerned with the same issues as white prisoners, although some Muslim prisoners felt less positive that their concerns were being listened to. Foreign nationals were particularly negative about their experiences at Birmingham. Complaints were poorly managed and prisoners had little faith in the process, although legal services were better than we normally see. Health care provision was generally good and valued by most prisoners. Mental health care support for the relatively high number of prisoners needing it was very good. The quality of food provided was reasonable although many prisoners still complained about its quality. Most prisoners had a reasonable amount of time out of cell, and the regime was predictable and rarely curtailed. Leadership and management of learning and skills provision was improving and the number of education and work places had increased since the last inspection, although there was still not enough.
A move to offer more activities on a part-time basis would help improve engagement, as would improving punctuality and attendance. Too much wing work was also mundane and did not help develop employability skills. Success rates in education achievements had improved but not sufficiently in the important area of functional skills, notably English. Access to the library was particularly poor and just a third of prisoners regularly used what was otherwise a good PE provision. Resettlement services were useful and effective but would be further enhanced and more focused if underpinned by a needs analysis of the population.
Prisoner perceptions of resettlement opportunities were improving and outcomes across the various resettlement pathways were reasonable. The prison had a well motivated offender management unit and there was a good focus on seeking to ensure offender assessments were mostly up to date. However, public protection work was much weaker and required attention. Overall and in the context of the risks and challenges faced by this prison, this is an encouraging report. Birmingham is well led and we found a much improved staff culture. Improvement is broadly based and a commitment to meaningful consultation with prisoners seems to be a new found strength of the prison. There is much more to do and Birmingham will always have pressures and risks to face. But the Director and his staff deserved credit for their achievements so far.”

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