A prisoner at one of Britain’s largest jails had to ask someone on the outside to alert staff after he was placed in a cell without a working toilet, a watchdog has disclosed.
Monitors also raised concerns that phone calls into crisis-hit HMP Birmingham were not always answered.
In one instance, the father of an inmate was unable to get a message to his son informing him of his mother’s death for two days.
HMP Birmingham came under scrutiny earlier this year when Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke raised the alarm over “appalling” squalor and violence at the establishment.
As his findings were revealed in August, the Ministry of Justice confirmed it had taken over running of the jail from G4S for at least six months.
In a new report, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for the prison said it had observed instances of men being placed in cells that are not fit for purpose.
The report said: “A man, placed in a cell without a working toilet, had to arrange for a person outside the prison to phone the duty director to get this resolved.”
The board said it was concerned that telephone calls from outside the prison are not always answered.
“In one instance the father of a prisoner was unable, for two days, to get a message via the phone line informing the prisoner of his mother’s death,” the report said.
“In another case, calls were made about concerns for the safety of a vulnerable prisoner, who was subsequently seriously assaulted.”
The report covering the 12 months to the end of June found bullying, debt, drugs and gang-related issues continued to be the main causes of violence in the prison.
Security activity had increased significantly, with mobile phone finds in the first half of 2018 exceeding the number for the whole of last year.
Despite it being a non-smoking prison, men were observed smoking in cells and on landings, according to the report.
It also warned that rats and cockroaches were in evidence in many areas of the jail.
The board said the prison is “considered by many to be the most violent and challenging in the country” but concluded that it is turning a corner and showing early signs of improvement in conditions for prisoners and staff.
Roger Swindells, chairman of the IMB, said: “We have monitored a prison in crisis for the last 18 months and have described many incidents that have caused great concern.
“Since August we have seen a ‘step in’ by HMPPS (Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service) to take over the running of the prison and are now seeing early signals that outcomes for prisoners are improving in terms of cleanliness, safety, security activity and the provision of an acceptable daily regime.”
Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said: “We took decisive action at HMP Birmingham, stepping in to strengthen the management, bringing in additional staff and reducing the population, and I’m pleased the IMB recognises that we are making progress.”
Mr Stewart said the prison’s new governor and his staff are “working tirelessly to drive up standards and urgent action continues to improve safety and living conditions”, adding: “We will keep a close eye on progress to ensure Birmingham becomes a place of stability and reform.”
Monitors at HMP Birmingham have published their 2017/2018 Annual Report.
This report presents the observations and opinions of the Monitoring Board (MB) at HMP Birmingham for the period July 2017 to June 2018.
Events detailed in the report occurred prior to and after the reporting window and are noted as they are considered relevant.
This annual report has been informed by observations made by members during frequent visits to the prison and through contact with prisoners, prison officers, and staff at all levels in all areas.
HMP Birmingham is a local category B prison for adult men, run by G4S. It has a potential operational capacity of 1,450 but currently runs at a capacity of 1,340, with one wing being temporarily closed. HMP Birmingham is a Victorian prison with additional, modern accommodation including a healthcare centre, a gymnasium, an education centre and workshops. The prison has a total of twelve residential wings. These wings include a wing for the elderly, and a healthcare wing, a detoxification wing, two wings for sex offenders and vulnerable prisoners, a First Night Centre and a Care and Separation Unit The prison holds men, both convicted and on remand, including those who are serving life sentences and indeterminate public protection (IPP) sentences. During the year there have been over 20,000 prisoner movements into and out of the establishment and nearly 5,000 new prisoner admissions.
The Board say:
We have sought evidence through a review of daily reports and monthly feedback from the Senior Management Team (SMT) at Board meetings. It has been a difficult and challenging year and the Board found it necessary to write and advise the Prisons Minister of serious deficiencies at the prison. Alongside this, HMPPS also served two notices to improve to the prison over four serious failings. The timing of both events coincided with a drive by G4S to tackle the many challenges. In the final three months of the reporting year there were some early signs of improvement in staffing levels and morale.
The letter to the Prisons Minister detailed a number of deeply worrying issues, including specific examples of men being placed in uninhabitable cells and management failing to move them to satisfactory conditions.
The issues were:
• six deaths in custody in a seven-week period
• levels of violence, assaults, and self-harm that, whilst having stabilised, had created an unsafe environment, and given cause for concern.
• the widespread availability of prohibited drugs, even in the segregation unit.
• occasions when the treatment of prisoners had fallen below acceptable levels of decency and humanity
• overcrowded and unfit living conditions In the letter, the Board highlighted the issue of staff relinquishing authority to prisoners. G4s knew of the problems and took very little action to remedy them. The Board has plenty of examples of how difficult and frustrating the G4S response has been to simple issues, such as IT access, ID cards, informing the board of new entrants to the Care and Separation Unit (CSU), or obtaining certain data. This inability to address relatively simple concerns is symptomatic of a significant cause of frustration that prisoners experience over their complaints being answered fairly and reasonably. Just after the end of the reporting period:
• HMIP carried out an unannounced inspection and issued an Urgent Notification to the Secretary of State
• HMPPS released a redacted copy of the Investigation Report into the riot of December 2016 Both documents noted the many failings and concerns already raised by the Board in monthly meetings with the Director and referred to in the letter the Board sent to the Minister for Prisons in May 2018. This annual report reflects the changes occurring in the prison environment over twelve months, and so observes both improvements and deteriorations in outcomes for prisoners.
Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said the report was ‘breathtaking’.
Mr Leech said: “Its no secret that I’m critical of the national system of Monitoring Boards, with its selection by and payment of reports on his own prisons by the Justice Secretary, it smacks of non-independence.
“This report is a breathtaking example of how such Boards, when they know the prison is in absolute meltdown say nothing at all to the public – that is the antithesis of independence.
“Boards seem to think they’re part of some kind of Golf Club Committee; they’re not.
“While staff and prisoners were suffering appalling conditions at Birmingham Prison, Monitors there wrote just one letter in 18 months to the Prisons Minister, never uttering a single word to the public about it, they came in and went home without saying a word and leaving behind them increasing chaos and danger.
“How much longer do we have to put up with this second-rate system of alleged independent oversight of our prisons?”