The 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