Birmingham Prison – ‘The Worst Prison Riot Since Strangeways

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Authorities have regained control of one of the country’s biggest jails after trouble described as the worst since the infamous 1990 Strangeways Prison riot.

Hundreds of inmates were caught up in disorder after disturbances erupted across four wings of HMP Birmingham, lasting more than 12 hours.

Riot squads were deployed to the category B jail to restore order after reports of prisoners setting fire to stairwells, breaking a security chain and destroying paper records.

Specially-trained prison guards, known as “Tornado” squads from other parts of the country were backed up by around 25 riot police as they moved into the privately-run facility late on Friday.

Police had earlier closed the road and established a secure cordon around the main gate of the prison.

One prisoner is understood to have received a broken jaw and eye socket during the disturbances, while no prison staff were injured.

Broken windows and damaged walls were described as being left in the aftermath of the disruption, but sources said it had been “superficial”.

Mike Rolfe, national chairman of the Prison Officers Association, who last month protested over safety concerns, said more than 30 staff had left the prison in recent weeks and compared the trouble to the notorious Strangeways riot 26 years ago.

“This prison is a tough place to work, it serves a very big area, it serves a large, dangerous population of prisoners but it’s not unlike many other prisons up and down the country – ones that have very similar inmates,” he told BBC Radio Four’s The World Tonight.

“And we’ve been warning for a long time about the crisis in prisons and what we are seeing at Birmingham is not unique to Birmingham, but it certainly would seem that this is the most recent worst incident since the 1990 Strangeways riot.”

Mr Rolfe accused the Government of not funding the prison system properly and said such disturbances are becoming more frequent as a result.

The situation, in which keys giving access to residential prison areas were taken from an officer and inmates occupied some blocks and exercise facilities, will be investigated thoroughly, the Justice Secretary said.

Liz Truss said: “I want to pay tribute to the bravery and dedication of the prison officers who resolved this disturbance.

“I also want to give my thanks to West Midlands Police, who supported G4S and the Prison Service throughout the day, ambulance crews and the fire service who also provided assistance.

“This was a serious situation and a thorough investigation will now be carried out. Violence in our prisons will not be tolerated and those responsible will face the full force of the law.”

The city centre jail formerly known as Winson Green and run by G4S can hold up to 1,450 inmates, but it is understood around 260 prisoners were caught up in the incident.

Jerry Petherick, m anaging director for G4S custodial and detention, said the prisoners behind the trouble “showed a callous disregard for the safety of prisoners and staff”.

He added: “This disturbance will rightly be subject to scrutiny and we will work openly and transparently with the Ministry of Justice and other relevant authorities to understand the cause of today’s disorder.”

Former inmates at the jail where serial murderer Fred West hanged himself in 1995 have said they are not surprised at the disturbances, describing it as something that was “bound to happen”.

The latest disturbance is the third in English prisons in less than two months.

On November 6 a riot at category B Bedford Prison saw up to 200 inmates go on the rampage, flooding the jail’s gangways in chaotic scenes.

Just days earlier, on October 29, a national response unit had to be brought in to control prisoners during an incident at HMP Lewes in East Sussex.

A spokesman from the Prison Governors Association said the disturbance at the Birmingham jail “comes at a very difficult time for Noms (National Offender Management Service) on the back of recent riots and at a time when the prison estate is already bursting at the seams”.

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said the disturbances at the Birmingham jail were “hugely concerning” and claimed the Justice Secretary was “failing to get this crisis under control”.

Tory chairman of the Commons Justice Committee, Robert Neill, told Channel Four News the Government had been warned by his watchdog group of MPs that a “time bomb was ticking” as prisons were in “crisis”.

When it was suggested this could be the worst prison riot in years, Mr Neill said: “Certainly looking that way, yeah, and this is a problem which has happened both in privately and publicly-run systems, so it applies across the piece.

“I think that does indicate that we have got a situation where if people are locked down 22/23 hours a day, as we have discovered, that breeds tension, that breeds violence, and, as you rightly say, we are not actually keeping prisons secure enough to stop contraband getting in.”

Labour’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told Channel Four News “private companies should not be involved in taking away people’s liberty. Actually, it’s clear that G4S don’t have the quality of staff to manage a crisis like this”.

Mark Leech, editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners, urged people to sign the online petition for a public inquiry into the prison system.

Mr Leech said Mr Leech said: “We need a public inquiry into our prison system – something we have never had – so our prison system can be clear what is expected of it.

“At the moment we have a secretary of state who has sought to bring in a clear vision of reform, but the evidence shows that these policy decisions are fragile – we are now on our third Justice Secretary in just 18 months, each with very different approaches, and we simply cannot go on stumbling from one policy change to another.

“We need absolute clarity about exactly what it is that we expect our prison system to deliver, in terms of how it reduces crime, punishes offenders, keeps staff and prisoners safe and how it addresses the concern of victims.

“Once we have that clear vision, based on an examination of evidence, from around the world if necessary as to what works best, we then need to know exactly what that is going to cost in real terms and ensure that the prison system has those resources to pay for its delivery.

“At the moment the prison system is told it has a mission of prison reform, but we have no idea what that ‘reform’ really means, what it will cost in real terms or how its delivery is to be paid for – that’s a recipe for disaster.

“And there is nothing to say that this time next year we will not have another Justice Secretary, with completely different views to the current one, who orders another 180-degree turn in policy yet again and leaves the prison system reeling and even more confused than ever about what it is expected to do.

” Only a Public Inquiry will deliver that clarity and I urge everyone with an interest in our prisons to sign the petition.”

Mr Leech said: “You cannot run a prison system on tuppence ha’penny while expecting it to deliver reforms that cost billions – where is that money going to come from?”

The introduction of legal highs, inside our prisons has been a game-changer. Assaults on prisoners and staff are at record levels, staff assaults are running at the rate of 65 a day, every day, with suicides, murders, self-harm, escapes and riots – where will it end?

Please, sign the petition.

Ex-inmates deliberately getting sent back to jail to sell drugs report reveals

Legal-HighsFormer inmates are deliberately getting sent back to prison to cash in on lucrative profits on offer for selling drugs previously known as “legal highs”, according to a new report.

Prices for the substances can jump 33-fold once they cross into jails – providing prisoners with an incentive to go back behind bars to make money, researchers claimed.

A gram of synthetic cannabinoids, which mimic the effects of cannabis, can cost £3 on the outside but can fetch up to £100 when sold in prisons, the study said.

It claimed to have uncovered strong evidence that the licence recall system – under which offenders can be brought back to custody – was “routinely and systematically” abused to bring the drugs into prisons.

The paper, based on research conducted in an adult male prison in England, suggested that recently freed inmates committed minor infractions, such as missing probation meetings, in order to return to jail.

Prisoners reported being able to make £3,000 in four weeks by bringing in an ounce (28 grams) of synthetic cannabinoids.

One prisoner even claimed that another inmate had made £100,000 dealing the substances during a six-month sentence – although the report acknowledged that stated profits could be prone to exaggeration.

It detailed a number of “novel” reported smuggling methods, including via drones or sprayed onto books, letters and children’s drawings.

Lead researcher Dr Rob Ralphs, senior lecturer in criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “It is no exaggeration to say that the synthetic cannabinoid market has exploded and unleashed a series of devastating impacts on prisons, prisoners and prison staff.

“Traditional drugs have almost been wiped out and replaced with these extremely powerful synthetic cannabinoids because prisoners are attracted by high profit margins and their lack of detection in drug tests.

“Our research found that prisoners’ motivation for taking synthetic cannabinoids was to escape the boredom of prison life and to avoid positive drug tests but their impact is extremely serious.”

The study – published in the International Journal of Drug Policy – comes at a time when the state of jails in England and Wales is under intense scrutiny.

New psychoactive substances, which were commonly referred to as legal highs before they were made the subject of a blanket ban earlier this year, have been identified as a “game-changer” as prisons are hit by surging levels of violence.

The government is pursuing a number of measures to tackle the problem under its prison reform plans, including “no fly zones” to stop drones dropping contraband into jails and mandatory drug testing across the estate.

More than 300 drug detection dogs have also been trained to identify psychoactive substances concealed in parcels and on people.

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “As the Justice Secretary has made clear, we want prisons to be places of safety and reform and are educating prisoners about the dangers of drugs, especially the risks of new psychoactive substances.

“As part of our strategy to tackle this, we have rolled out new testing and have trained over 300 dogs to detect these substances.

“We have also introduced tough new laws to deal with people smuggling new psychoactive substances into jails and those caught using banned substances will face extra time behind bars.”

Prison officers ignore use of legal highs and pornography

HMP Rochester
HMP Rochester

Prison staff ignore inmates who are under the influence of “legal highs” in a jail where their use is a major problem, according to a watchdog report published today.

The Times reported drugs had been found at the rate of ten a month, including very large parcels that had been thrown over the wall, at Rochester jail in Kent. Prison inspectors saw inmates who were clearly under the influence of psychoactive substances when they arrived at the 740-inmate jail in September.

Their inspection report said that the use and supply of the substances, such as Spice, was a significant threat to prisoners. Inmates said that it was easier to get them than tobacco.

“There had been 62 drugs finds in the previous six months, including some very large parcels that had been thrown over the wall. During the inspection we observed prisoners obviously under the influence of these substances. However, some staff seemed indifferent to the number of prisoners clearly under the influence of drugs”, the report said.

The availability of so-called legal highs such as Spice was also leading to debt and bullying among inmates: 40 prisoners were held in isolation as they feared for their safety because of debts related to drugs.

Anabolic steroids and illegal buprenorphine (Subutex) had also been detected in drug tests.

Between March and August last year violence had escalated with 18 assaults against staff, 36 against prisoners and 16 fights.

Some had resulted in serious injuries and, in one case, murder.

The report also criticised poor living accommodation after inspectors found dirty cells, broken equipment and laundry facilities that were out of use.

Graffiti and displays of explicit pornography were widespread and some prisoners held in the segregation unit were living in squalid conditions. One prisoner had been left overnight in a cell with a blocked sink and toilet and another in a cell that had been damaged by fire, the report said.

Inspectors said staff too often failed to challenge poor behaviour by prisoners. “We observed prisoners swearing and smoking freely on landings, prisoner cleaners failing to work, without challenge by staff, and pictures contravening the offensive displays policy that were not dealt with.”

Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons, said the jail had gone through big changes but had not made the progress hoped for.

“We were told of plans for the future but our overriding impression was that it was a prison that just needed to focus on the basics.

“A robust drug strategy, cleaning the prison up, getting prisoners to work on time and some joined-up thinking about their approach to resettling prisoners would be good places to start,” he said.

Michael Spurr, the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said: “As the chief inspector has found, Rochester faces a significant challenge from new psychoactive substances, or so called legal highs.

“Staff are determined to tackle this and have already put in place additional security measures, as well as increasing awareness about the dangers and extending support to overcome substance misuse issues.”

Legal highs and drones targeted in prison crackdown

jaildroneSmugglers attempting to sneak so-called legal highs into prisons will face up to two years in jail under a Government crackdown.

A new law will also target those using drones to fly materials into jails.

Last year authorities recorded 250 incidents of new psychoactive substances being thrown over prison walls but until now police have had no power to act against those caught in the act because the drugs themselves are not yet illegal.

Now ministers have signed an order to close the loophole.

From November 10 smugglers who throw anything over prison walls will face arrest, while those found to have smuggled packages could face a custodial sentence of up to two years.

Prisons minister Andrew Selous said: “These ‘lethal highs’ fuel violence in our prisons including brutal assaults on staff and other prisoners. It’s got to stop.

“That is why we’re closing this dangerous loophole in the law so perpetrators will now face up to two years in prison.

New psychoactive substances can cause violent, unpredictable behaviour and lead to prison assaults, the Ministry of Justice said.

Earlier this year it emerged that the drugs, which mimic the effects of traditional banned substances such as cannabis, are suspected to have played a part in the deaths of at least 19 prisoners.

The Government announced a wider crackdown on legal highs earlier this year, with sellers of the drugs facing up to seven years in prison under a new law.

Ian Bickers, governor of HMP Wandsworth in south-west London, said: “These drugs cause huge problems in prisons, fuelling violence and bad behaviour among prisoners.

“They are frequently smuggled in through packages thrown over the wall. Anything that can be done to crack down on this is very welcome.”

The new offence will also cover the flying of items into prisons by a drone or the landing of the gadget itself within prison grounds, regardless of whether it is transporting contraband.

Earlier this year Eve Richard, a senior analyst at the National Offender Management Service (Noms) intelligence unit, was reported to have described the use of drones to drop items into prisons as an “emerging threat”.

CRIMINALIZING ‘LEGAL HIGHS’ WILL NOT WORK SAY EXPERTS

THE LEGAL HIGH : "EUPHORIA"

Drug campaigners today backed the warning from police chiefs that new Government powers to ban legal highs will not work.

The UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC), which analyses drug laws, said simply adding to the long list of substances already banned “won’t make much difference”.

Roger Howard, the UKDPC’s chief executive, said: “We are deluding ourselves if we think that the temporary ban will solve the problem.”

It comes after the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said the solution to tackling legal highs does not lie in “adding inexorably to the list of illicit substances”.

The police chiefs questioned “the extent to which legislation can realistically be used to address active choices being made by (predominantly young) people”.

Mr Howard said: “It’s right for the Government to react quickly when a worrying new drug emerges.

“But as Acpo have said, just adding the drug to the long list already controlled won’t make much difference.

“The police and forensics are under too much pressure already to be able to offer much deterrent to potential users.

“We are deluding ourselves if we think that the temporary ban will solve the problem.”

He went on: “We should think instead about what other powers we can use. Trading standards controls could provide a boosted first line of defence.

“We should encourage retailers to work with the authorities to reduce the damage that drug use can cause, and allow us to bring some discipline to an unregulated market.”

Even the Government’s own drugs advisers have concerns over the new powers, saying they hope a better way of tackling legal highs could be found.

Professor Les Iversen, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), said: “Picking them off one by one is not necessarily very productive.”

As one substance is banned, another one is produced which has similar effects but which is designed to avoid the scope of the ban, he said.

“That happens all the time.

“Hopefully we can find a better way of addressing the problem, rather than just hitting the compounds one by one.”

Speaking at a public meeting in central London last week, he said consumer protection legislation and the Medicines Act 1968 could be used instead.

And he warned that the committee could become overwhelmed if too many legal highs were banned by the Government.

The row follows Acpo’s submission to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the Government’s drug policy.

The document, seen by The Times and confirmed by Acpo, said: “From an early stage, the chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers’ (Acpo) drugs committee was of the opinion that the solution to the particular challenge of legal highs did not lie in adding inexorably to the list of illicit substances.

“A key question for the Government to determine is the extent to which legislation can realistically be used to address active choices being made by (predominantly young) people and to tackle the undoubted harms caused by the misuse of substances taken essentially for pleasure.”

The police would continue to “focus their energies on serious criminality” and “take a less robust enforcement approach” when it comes to personal possession, it added.

Last week, mexxy, which is sold as an alternative to ketamine and has been linked to two deaths, became the first so-called legal high to be subject to the Government’s new banning powers.

It will be made illegal for up to 12 months while the Government’s drugs advisers consider whether it should be permanently controlled.

But the move prompted Speaker’s wife Sally Bercow to say she was tempted to try it before it was too late.

Mrs Bercow assured her more than 45,000 followers on Twitter she would not actually buy any, but admitted she was tempted and “now obsessed with the stuff, despite never having heard of it 1/2 hr ago”.

“Am I the only one now slightly tempted to try mexxy before it becomes illegal? I won’t, obvs,” she wrote.

The ban followed concerns that two people whose bodies were found in Leicestershire in February might have taken some form of the drug after buying it over the internet.

Police warned people not to take mexxy, which was advertised and sold as a safe alternative to the class C drug ketamine, after the bodies of a 59-year-old woman and a 32-year-old man were found in Leicester and Melton Mowbray on February 11 and 12.

Under the new temporary banning order, anyone caught making, supplying or importing mexxy, or methoxetamine, could face up to 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the Home Office said.

Simple possession will not be an offence, but police and border officials will be allowed to search or detain anyone they suspect of having the drug and seize, keep or dispose of a substance they suspect is mexxy.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The UK is leading the way in cracking down on new psychoactive substances by banning them while the harms they cause are investigated.

“Drugs ruin lives and cause misery to families and communities.

“Our strategy is to keep drugs off the streets and punish the dealers.”

SEE OUR EDITORIAL: “HAVE OUR DRUGS POLICIES GONE TO POT?”