HMP Birmingham – Availability of Drugs Still Affecting Safety

HMP-Birmingham1The stability of HMP Birmingham was being adversely affected by the high volume of illicit drugs available, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Prison managers and staff were clearly committed to moving on and making progress after the disturbance last year, he added. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the local West Midlands jail.

HMP Birmingham holds a complex mix of prisoners and is characterised by a very high throughput, with around 500 new prisoners each month and an average stay of only six weeks. In December 2016 a major disturbance took place at the prison. Severe damage was caused to much of the more modern accommodation. Four wings were undergoing repairs at the time of the inspection and were not expected to be in use for some months. Following the disturbance, around 500 prisoners were moved out of the jail, leaving a population of over 900 to be housed in the older Victorian accommodation.

The inspection two months after this serious disturbance was not to enquire into events leading up to it, look for causal factors or comment on the handling of the disturbance. The decision to inspect was to establish the extent to which the prison was housing its remaining prisoners safely and decently and to see whether rehabilitative activity and resettlement work were being successfully delivered. It was also intended to give a snapshot of how the prison was performing in February 2017 to give the leadership a baseline from which they could plan the continuing recovery.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • the safety and stability of the prison were being adversely affected by the high volume of illicit drugs, particularly new psychoactive substances;
  • 50% of prisoners said it was easy to get drugs, and as in so many prisons, drugs were giving rise to high levels of violence, debt and bullying;
  • the prison had a good drug supply reduction strategy and was working well with local police, but more needed to be done;
  • there was still too much inconsistency in the way poor behaviour was dealt with by staff;
  • despite a good range of education and training provision, not enough prisoners were able to take advantage of what was on offer and there was insufficient priority given to getting prisoners to their activities.

 

Inspectors were, however, pleased to find that:

  • there were many positive interactions between staff and prisoners and, in general, staff-prisoner relationships were respectful;
  • health care was generally good; and
  • the community rehabilitation company (CRC) was working better than in other jails.

 

Peter Clarke said:

“The leadership of the prison was clearly committed to meeting the many challenges presented by this large and complex establishment. The events of December 2016 had had a profound effect upon many members of staff. There was still, some two months later, a palpable sense of shock at the suddenness and ferocity of what had happened. Despite this, there was a very clear determination on the part of leadership and staff to move on from the disorder, rebuild and make progress.

“I am well aware that this report is likely to receive very close attention from many people who would like to understand the reasons for the riot. That is not the purpose of this report, and to attempt to use it in that way would be a mistake. This report is no more, and no less, than an account of the treatment of prisoners and the conditions in which we saw them being held during the period of the inspection.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of HM Prison & Probation Service, said:

“This report provides an overview of HMP Birmingham two months after the serious disturbance which took place on 16 December. The Chief Inspector rightly draws attention to the impact of the riot on prisoners and staff but describes a prison which is now ‘in recovery’ and making positive progress.

“There remains more to do to provide purposeful activity and to tackle violence and illicit drug use but the staff and the leadership team deserve credit for the commendable way they have responded to the challenges to date.

“We are determined to learn lessons from what happened at Birmingham and will work closely with G4S to achieve improvement. Additional staff are being recruited and G4S will use the recommendations in this report to drive progress over the coming months.”

A copy of the full report, published on 28 June, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons

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.

G4S deny MP’s claim they told family their loved one had hanged himself – only to call back later to say he hadn’t

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A family who were wrongly informed their son had killed himself in prison has received an apology from the Government – but G4S, whose staff allegedly made the call, have said it never happened.

MPs heard the HMP Birmingham inmate’s relatives received a call earlier this month in which they were told he had taken his own life.

HMP Birmingham is operated by G4S.

But 30 minutes later they were told he was still alive, according to Labour’s Stephen Doughty.

The Cardiff South and Penarth MP called for an investigation into the error, also noting his constituent has endured a “lengthy bureaucratic process” in efforts to transfer him to a secure mental health unit.

Prisons Minister Andrew Selous apologised to the family concerned and agreed to discuss the inmate’s case further.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Doughty said: “I share the concerns of many honourable members about the situation involving prisoners with mental health issues and the risks they pose not only to themselves but also to others and indeed are faced by them in prisons, and the concerns that the staffing cuts are having on that.

“I’ve been in correspondence with the minister about a specific constituent of mine, who has endured a lengthy bureaucratic process about potential transfer to a secure mental health unit that would be more adequate for his needs.

“But also I’m sorry to say that his family had a call this month telling them that he had killed himself, only to be told half an hour later that he hadn’t.

“That’s an extraordinary situation, and I think I’d like to see the minister investigating that fully and also to be looking very closely at the case that has been made for him to be transferred away from HMP Birmingham, where he’s currently being held.”

Mr Selous replied: “I’d certainly like to apologise to the family through you for being given terrible news like that that clearly wasn’t true, and if you’d like to write to me again – or indeed even come and see me – about that particular issue, I’d be more than happy to further discuss it with you.”

However, following publication of the story on www.converseprisonnews.com we have been contacted by G4S who said the story was “incorrect”.

A G4S spokesman said: “It is something that was said in Parliament, but our investigations have shown that we didn’t call the prisoner’s family to tell them that the prisoner had died.

“We have checked phone records to that effect.

“In fact, we never call prisoner’s families to inform them of a death in custody, but instead we meet them in person.
“So we’re confident that any phone call referenced didn’t come from our prison.”

Two prisoners film rap video on illicit mobile phone at HMP Birmingham

rapvideoTwo prisoners have filmed a rap video from behind bars at HMP Birmingham.

Demehl Thomas and Moysha Shepherd are thought to have captured footage of themselves on a banned mobile phone before it was uploaded on to the internet.

Bosses at HMP Birmingham have launched an investigation.

Thomas, 25, was serving a sentence for aggravated burglary but is believed to have been freed on licence earlier this year before being returned for breaching the terms of his release, according to the Sun.

By the time he was recalled in June he had compiled an album under the stage name Remtrex which was released on iTunes earlier this month, the newspaper said.

Shepherd, also 25, is serving a sentence for involvement in a plot to spring a criminal from a prison van in 2012.

The expletive-filled video shows the pair performing while dressed in black vests, taking it in turns to rap.

At one point Thomas says: “I want a mansion and I want my kids to live good. I don’t want to get locked up or killed in the hood.”

A second mobile phone appears to be charging in the background in the footage.

It is understood that the two do not share a cell and it is unclear in which room the film was shot.

Prison officials were said to have been tipped off last week but when the inmates’ cells were searched no mobile phone was found.

Birmingham Prison is a Victorian jail holding adult male inmates with a capacity of 1,450. It has been run by G4S since 2011.

The firm confirmed that mobile phones are banned.

Prison director Pete Small said:”Like every other prison in the country, it is a constant challenge to detect and seize contraband items such as mobile phones.

“Our prison custody officers are trained to look for contraband and we conduct regular and targeted cell searches to remove mobile phones, chargers and sim cards.

“In this instance, searches had already been carried out based on intelligence gathered and, as a result of the information received, further searches will be conducted.”

Figures show that in 2013 a total of 7,541 illicit mobile phones or sim cards were discovered in jails around the country.

 

 

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.”