Home Office refused leave to appeal in prisoner abuse inquiry

The Home Office has failed in a bid to challenge a High Court ruling over the terms of an investigation into alleged abuse at a scandal-hit immigration detention centre.

Two former detainees at Brook House immigration removal centre, identified only as MA and BB, successfully argued that a full independent investigation into “systemic and institutional failures” was needed “to ensure fact-finding, accountability and lesson-learning”.

Their case followed a BBC Panorama programme, broadcast in September 2017, which featured undercover footage showing alleged assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees by officers at the G4S-run centre near Gatwick Airport.

The footage appears to show one detention custody officer holding MA down while whispering in his ear: “Don’t move you f***ing piece of shit. I’m going to put you to f***ing sleep.”

BB, who alleges that officers used excessive force on him after he threatened to kill himself, later claimed: “The abuse shown on Panorama wasn’t even half of what really went on.”

Fourteen members of G4S staff were dismissed or resigned following the broadcast, and the Home Office asked the prisons and probation ombudsman (PPO) to carry out an investigation.

In June, the High Court found that there was “a real risk amounting to an overwhelming probability that former G4S staff will not attend voluntarily to give evidence”, and ruled that “the PPO must have a power to compel witness attendance”.

Mrs Justice May held that “the egregious nature of the breaches”, which she said were “repeated events, in front of others, where the perpetrators were managers and trainers, as well as ordinary officers”, required the PPO to have such powers.

The judge also ruled that MA and BB were entitled to publicly-funded lawyers, saying: “When dignity and humanity has been stripped, one purpose of an effective investigation must be to restore what has been taken away through identifying and confronting those responsible, so far as it is possible.

“How is that to be done in any meaningful way here unless MA and BB, non-lawyers where English is not their first language, are enabled through representation to meet their (alleged) abusers on equal terms?”

On Thursday, MA and BB’s legal teams announced that the Court of Appeal had rejected the Home Office’s application to challenge Mrs Justice May’s ruling.

After considering the application without an oral hearing, Lord Justice Bean ruled: “I do not consider that there is any realistic prospect of success in the proposed appeal.”

The judge said it was “difficult to see how a satisfactory investigation could be carried out in the present case without the alleged perpetrators of the abuse being required to give evidence”.

He added: “The special investigation should be permitted to proceed without further delay.”

Following the High Court’s ruling in June, BB’s solicitor Joanna Thomson said in a statement: “The victims at Brook House suffered dreadful inhuman and degrading treatment.

“They have also suffered the injustice of the Government’s failure to hold an effective inquiry.

“This important judgment should now lead to an investigation that will uncover the truth so that there are no further abuse scandals in the UK’s immigration removal centres.”

MA’s solicitor, Lewis Kett of Duncan Lewis, said the June ruling “ensures that those officers can be held to account for their actions and that the PPO will be better equipped to get to the heart of why this happened and how to ensure it is never repeated”.

Last month, a National Audit Office investigation found G4S has made £14.3 million in profit from Brook House between 2012 and 2018.

Following the revelation, Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Home Affairs Committee, accused the Home Office of a “shockingly cavalier approach” to sensitive contracts.

Ms Cooper said the NAO’s findings raised “serious questions” about the Home Office’s handling of sensitive contracts and claimed its monitoring should have picked up problems sooner.

She said: “For G4S to be making up to 20% gross profits on the Brook House contract at the same time as such awful abuse by staff against detainees was taking place is extremely troubling.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We have noted the judgment and are considering next steps.”

G4S should be banned from running jails say Labour

Security company G4S should be banned from running prisons after a number of failings were identified, shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon has said.

The opposition frontbencher made the call during a debate on prisons and probation, as Labour called for no new contracts to be handed out to private contractors.

But Justice Secretary David Gauke hit back, saying the scheme had been a success overall, and attacking his opposite number’s “dogmatic” speech.

Mr Burgon said problems at HMP Birmingham, which was run by G4S before being taken back into the public sector, are not localised.

He added: “G4S has in fact failed across the justice sector. It has been forced to give up youth prisons after abuse allegations.

“Horrific treatment at its immigration detention centres has been exposed and the security giant is still under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for its role in an electronic tagging scandal that included charging for dead people.

“Let’s be honest, its role in our justice system should be suspended and should have been suspended there and then, but the Government actually appears to be in hock to it and no wonder given that it has £5 billion of Ministry of Justice contracts.”

Labour’s opposition day motion is non-binding on the Government and simply expresses the opinion of the Commons.

It calls on the Government to end its plans to sign new private probation contracts and contracts for new privately run prisons.

Mr Burgon accused the Government of “throwing more good money after bad”, adding: “Just how bad does it have to get before the Conservative Party ends its obsession with the private sector?

“Private firms could be deliberately understaffing prisons to boost their profits. It’s clearly in the public interest that the staffing levels in private prisons are routinely published just as they are routinely published in publicly run prisons.”

He also called for an independent inquiry into whether privatisation has increased violence in prisons.

Mr Burgon finished by saying: “The Conservatives promised that privatisation of our justice system would lead to better services and lower costs. The evidence is now in, it has achieved neither.

“Instead of savings we’ve had bailouts, instead of improved safety there’s disproportionate violence, instead of accountability we’ve had secrecy.”

Mr Gauke said it was right to discuss the use of the private sector in prisons, but the Labour frontbencher’s speech was “simplistic, dogmatic and bombastic”.

He acknowledged that HMP Birmingham was a “failing prison” and standards were “unacceptable” during a 2018 inspection.

But he said the Government stepped in “at no extra cost to the taxpayer” and showed “when it is right to step in, we will step in”.

He added there are lots of other privately run prisons which have been a success, praising HMP Bronzefield, which has pioneered the use of in-cell phones for inmates, citing it as an example of the private sector “getting there first”.

Mr Gauke finished by saying: “We will always work to put the public first, in reducing reoffending, protecting the public and building a stronger justice system.”

Labour MP Mohammed Yasin (Bedford) said publicly run prisons are being “deliberately run into the ground and deprived of adequate funding”.

He added: “Marketisation has utterly failed in the prison and probation services and public safety has been compromised.

“It is time the Government listened to frontline workers who know exactly how to turn things around.”

Liberal Democrat Vera Hobhouse (Bath) said the Government should invest in women’s centres to help reduce reoffending.

She added: “Short sentences target the most vulnerable offenders, especially women, with 72% of women offenders being sentenced for less than a year.

“Sixty-two percent of these women sentenced for less than a year go on to reoffend. Often these months in prison are just enough time for a woman to lose her job, house and children.

“They find themselves released back into society with no safety nets and very little in the way of support.”

Birmingham Prison – brought back under permanent MOJ control

Birmingham prison is being brought back in-house permanently after it plunged into crisis under private management.

HM Prison and Probation Service took over the jail from G4S in August.

The unprecedented move was announced at the same time as Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke published a scathing assessment of the prison, which is one of the largest in the country.

The initial “step-in” was for at least six months, before being extended to the summer.

On Monday, the Government announced that HMPPS has decided, with the full agreement of G4S, to end the contract seven years early.

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said: “I am confident that HMP Birmingham has made good progress since the ‘step-in’ but to build on this, the prison needs stability and continuity.

“That is why we have mutually agreed with G4S that the public sector is better placed to drive the long-term improvements required and the contract will end.

“Our priority remains the safety of prisoners and staff but this move to restore and consolidate order at one of our most challenging jails will ultimately make sure that we are better protecting the public.”

He stressed the Government still believes in a “mixed economy” of providers, saying some private jails are among the best performing.

“Indeed, G4S itself is running excellent prisons at Altcourse and Oakwood, and this Government believes passionately that private providers should continue to play a crucial role in our system,” Mr Stewart said.

Mr Clarke triggered the “urgent notification” scheme to demand immediate action at HMP Birmingham following an inspection visit last summer.

The chief inspector’s report, which detailed findings prior to the Government’s intervention, revealed that inmates walked around “like zombies” while high on drugs in scenes likened to a war zone.

Prisoners flouted rules without challenge from staff, many of whom were “anxious and fearful” as they went about their duties, the assessment found.

G4S was awarded a 15-year-contract to run the jail in 2011.

The firm will pay £9.9 million to cover additional costs associated with the step-in and essential maintenance works.

G4S custodial & detention services managing director Jerry Petherick said: “HMP Birmingham is an inner-city remand prison which faces exceptional challenges including high levels of prisoner violence towards staff and fellow prisoners.

“We believe that it is in the best interests of staff and the company that management of this prison is transferred to HMPPS and we will work closely with the Ministry of Justice to ensure a smooth transition over the next three months.

“We will continue to deliver high quality services at the other four major UK prisons that we manage and I would like to pay tribute to all of our employees who provide an outstanding service at these prisons, often in a demanding operating environment.”

Mark Fairhurst, national chairman of the Prison Officers Association, said the announcement means HMP Birmingham will be returned to “where it rightfully belongs”.

Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales, Mark Leech, called the decision “sensible”

Mr Leech said: “I believe that the reasoning behind this decision is that the Ministry of Justice take the view that, rightly or wrongly, G4S cannot be trusted to take back management of the prison without the real risk that it will again descend into chaos and a lack of control.

“In those circumstances its a sensible and pragmatic decision but G4S have recently been named as one of the operators involved in the selection process for operation of the soon to be opened Wellingborough and Glen Parva prisons – this decision must mean their application is subject to exceptional scrutiny.”

HMP Parc Young Persons Unit: Inspectors Commend Continuing Improvement – But CSIP and Catering Issues Must Be Addressed

Inspectors visited the Young Persons Unit at HMP Parc in South Wales last October and in their Report, published on 26th February 2019, said:

HMYOI Parc is a small juvenile facility comprising two wings and holding up to 60 boys aged under 18 located in the much larger Parc prison in South Wales. The unit and wider prison are operated by the private company G4S. At the time of this annual inspection there were 37 boys in residence.

At our last inspection we reported how good leadership and a re-energised staff group had contributed to significant improvement at the establishment. It was clear on this visit that the team had continued in their efforts to make the unit safer, more purposeful and more respectful. We had previously found high levels of violence, and boys with poor perceptions of their own safety. During this inspection, perceptions of safety were much better and recorded violence was on a consistent downward trajectory, with few serious incidents. Very few boys isolated themselves in their cells or were located in the segregation unit. The leadership team had established a reward-led culture that motivated most boys to behave, incorporating an evidence-based instant rewards scheme that we considered good practice.

Child protection procedures, an area in which we have previously been critical, were now much more effective and again evidenced good practice. Similarly, the multidisciplinary case management approach to managing the victims and perpetrators of violence through the application of a nationally sponsored process known as CSIP1 was an example to the many establishments that have struggled to grasp its potential.

Our highest assessments were in the areas of respect and purposeful activity. The units were clean and well maintained, relationships between boys and staff were good, and staff were tolerant but also displayed the confidence to challenge inappropriate behaviour when necessary. They balanced authority and care to create a supportive and disciplined environment.

The strategic approach to the management of equality and diversity had improved and health care services remained good. Time out of cell was impressive, even for those on the lowest level of the rewards scheme. There had been a progressive move to establishing a whole-unit approach to managing the boys at Parc. Departments worked together in a way we do not often see. Some experienced prison officers had been supported to undertake the postgraduate Certificate in Education training to work in education, which served to break down barriers between departments.

The education unit was exceeding the performance indicators set out in its contract and boys achieved a success rate of over 90% in most qualifications.

However, we made two main recommendations, one regarding the food and the other risk management. During our inspection, we spoke to most of the boys on both units. They were quick to praise staff and were very fair about their experiences at Parc, complaining about very little. This gave considerable credibility to their consistent complaints about food. Our own observations supported their negative perceptions and we would urge the prison to meet with the contractor at the earliest opportunity to address concerns in this important area.

Our second main recommendation concerned weaknesses in the establishment’s approach to risk management. Caseworkers worked well as part of multidisciplinary teams and were particularly effective in helping to manage boys on CSIP plans. The team knew the boys on their caseloads well and contact was good. However, despite significant information about risk being available to caseworkers, it was not always recognised or sufficiently investigated to inform sentence planning and management. This meant that planning for release did not adequately consider the vulnerabilities of or risks posed by some boys on their return to the community.

Given the energy and commitment put into addressing the concerns raised at previous inspections, we remain confident that leaders at Parc will make every effort to address our recommendations.

This was a good inspection and we found that the establishment was characterised by good relationships, excellent multidisciplinary work and strong leadership.

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales writes:

There is no getting away from it this is a good report on a small unit managed by G4S, the same company that six months ago saw the Ministry of Justice step-in to Birmingham Prison, which it also then operated, because of disastrous issues of management and control.

The young person population at Parc is minute by comparison, the report is silent on the resources made available to this Unit in terms of staff profiling, a constant defect in Inspection Reports that prevent effective comparability, but this is a good report, on an often difficult to manage, volatile and vulnerable population.

Parc overall is a huge prison, one of the largest in Europe and a research report last month showed that Wales has the highest rate of imprisonment in Western Europe – despite having one of the lowest crime rates.

The rewards-based focus identified in the report demonstrates once again that more carrot and less stick is often the most effective way to achieve behavioural change, and G4S are to be commended for putting rehabilitation and reducing reoffending at the heart of their work.

The two issues identified as defective in the report must be tackled.

The issue with catering, producing food that is often cold, unappetising and the source of constant complaints – confirmed by the Inspectorate – must be a major focus now for the prison’s management; we have seen too many times how complaints about food can lead to serious unrest if the issue is not tackled effectively.

But by far the more serious issue is with the weaknesses identified with the approach to CSIP, which must be addressed as a matter of urgency. [Challenge, Support and Intervention Planning, is a system used to manage the most violent prisoners and support the most vulnerable prisoners in the system. Prisoners who are identified as the perpetrator of serious or repeated violence, or who are vulnerable due to being the victim of violence or bullying behaviour, are managed and intended to be supported on a plan with individualised targets and regular reviews.] 

My one point of caution would be that all the good work that is being achieved at this small unit at Parc risks being undone if the issue with CSIP is not addressed properly – and this takes on an even greater significance if, as seems likely at the end of their sentence, these young people are simply tossed back into the same toxic inner-city, high-crime, poor opportunity environments that they were first taken out of – but that is a societal issue for the Welsh and UK Governments as a whole to tackle, and in respect of which G4S to be fair can itself have little effect.

Read the Report

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons renews call for an independent inquiry as to how HMP Birmingham descended into appalling, chaotic conditions in just 18 months.

Inmates at one of Britain’s largest jails walked around “like zombies” while high on drugs in scenes likened to a war zone, the Prisons Inspectorate reveals.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons also makes renewed calls for an independent inquiry as to how HMP Birmingham descended into appalling, chaotic conditions in just 18 months.

Prisoners at crisis-hit HMP Birmingham flouted rules without challenge from staff, many of whom were “anxious and fearful” as they went about their duties, HM Inspectorate of Prisons found.

Its report said: “We witnessed many prisoners under the influence of drugs, and some openly using and trafficking drugs around the site.

“Shockingly, some staff were ambivalent and accepting of such behaviour, and failed to respond to this overt drug misuse.”

On one occasion, when inspectors reported smelling drugs an officer was said to have “shrugged and laughed”, while another said they had “only just come on duty”, according to the report.

It quoted one prisoner describing a wing at the jail as “a war zone” with inmates “walking around like zombies, high on Spice”.

Spice, a psychoactive substance, has been identified as a major factor in the safety crisis that has hit much of the prisons estate in England and Wales.

At the time of the inspection in the summer, HMP Birmingham was run by G4S.

In the wake of the visit, Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke triggered the “urgent notification” scheme to demand immediate action from the Government.

As the first details of his findings emerged in August, the Ministry of Justice announced it was taking over the running of the prison for at least six months.

publishing the full inspection report on Tuesday, Mr Clarke renewed his call for an independent assessment into how the prison had been allowed to “slip into crisis”.

He said: “Why was it that those with responsibility for Birmingham either did not see these problems unfolding or seemed incapable of acting decisively when they did?

“Put simply, the treatment of prisoners and the conditions in which they were held at Birmingham were among the worst we have seen in recent years.”

The inspectorate’s report said:

– In the previous 12 months, there had been more assaults at the establishment than at any other local prison

– Frightened and vulnerable prisoners “self-isolated” in locked cells but could not escape bullying and intimidation

– Control in the prison was “tenuous”, with staff often not knowing where prisoners were

– Many cells were dirty, cramped and overcrowded

– The prison was failing in its responsibility to protect the public by preparing prisoners adequately for release, including hundreds of sex offenders

Prisons minister Rory Stewart said: “We have conducted a full and thorough investigation of the situation at Birmingham to understand the causes, learn lessons and prevent it happening again.

“We will keep a close eye on progress to ensure Birmingham returns to being a place of stability and reform, and we won’t hand the prison back until we consider it is safe to do so.”

A G4S spokeswoman said: “The well-being and safety of prisoners and prison staff is our key priority and we continue to work with the Ministry of Justice to urgently address the issues faced at the prison.

Mr Clarke added:

“The challenges facing this prison are huge;managers and staff need support if they are to turn the establishment around.

“The helpful action plan published by the Secretary of State provides an important framework for progress and is a start, but there also needs to be accountability among those implementing the plan.

“It is crucial for there to be transparent, open conversations about the state of the prison and the progress being made.

“It will undoubtedly take some time for Birmingham to make the improvements needed, and as an Inspectorate we leave the prison with a number of recommendations.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales writes:

‘The Chief Inspector of Prisons renews calls for an independent inquiry as to how G4S allowed HMP Birmingham, one of Britain’s biggest jails, to descend into appalling, chaotic conditions in just 18 months…’?

Hold on, let’s read that again.

“The Chief Inspector renews calls for an ‘independent inquiry'”?

That’s like the surgeon in theatre ordering that the patient on his operating table be taken to hospital.

They’re already in a hospital – and the Prisons Inspectorate is already ‘independent’.

Who then is better placed than the Prisons Inspectorate, with statutory independence and all expertise and experience that they have on tap to find out exactly what happened at Birmingham, if not the Prisons Inspectorate itself?

It sounds awfully like they’ve ‘fessed up’ to not being up to the job.

Or could it be they’ve recognised that any truly independent inquiry into Birmingham is inevitably going to find that the Prisons Inspectorate and Independent Monitoring have their own contributing failures to answer for?

The unpalatable truth for the Prisons Inspectorate is this:

Our prisons are in the mess they are largely because the Prisons Inspectorate have been quietly complicit in a system that has allowed governments over the last ten years to routinely ignore Prison Inspectorate recommendations with impunity.

I wrote an investigative article about this a year ago in The Independent, an article that (welcome by-product of another process or not I don’t know) saw the Urgent Notification procedure being signed four months later – but the fact is the Prisons Inspectorate doesn’t have clean hands here.

Yes the Urgent Notification procedure is a huge improvement, I welcome it, but I’ve never understood why we have to wait until a jail is in complete security, safety and control meltdown, warranting an Urgent Notification, before corrective action is taken?

Every recommendation of the Prisons Inspectorate should be seen as an ‘urgent notification’ – because unless it is, inevitably one day that is precisely what it is destined to become.

Read the Report here.

Birmingham prison action plan published – as MOJ Reject HMIP Calls For Urgent Inquiry

Ministry of Justice Rejects Calls By Chief Inspector for Inquiry Into Birmingham

  • 200 prisoners already moved out following unprecedented ‘step-in’
  • 3 Wings to be closed for refurbishment
  • 32 extra experienced prison officers and additional senior staff already in post
  • Cell refurbishment is ongoing and experienced estate managers continue to support urgent improvement to living conditions
  • Dedicated Prison Service safety team training staff to better manage vulnerable offenders
  • The ‘step-in’ will result in no additional cost to the taxpayer

The Government has rejected a watchdog’s call for an urgent inquiry to establish how one of Britain’s largest jails slipped into crisis.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said there could be “little hope” of improvement until there has been an independent assessment of the failings at HMP Birmingham last month.

However, the step was ruled out on Monday by Justice Secretary David Gauke as he published details of his department’s plans to improve standards at the prison.

In a letter to Mr Clarke, Mr Gauke wrote: “I strongly believe that we already understand what happened at HMP Birmingham.

“Through your assessment of the prison and that of the IMB, as well as our own investigation following the serious disturbance in December 2016, we have gained significant insight.”

The prison system in England and Wales came under intense scrutiny a month ago when the Chief Inspector raised the alarm over “appalling” squalor and violence at HMP Birmingham.

His report warned staff were fearful and unsafe while violent prisoners could act with “near impunity” and blatant use of illegal substances went largely unchallenged amid a “looming lack of control”.

Mr Clarke triggered the “urgent notification” scheme, which requires the Government to respond after an inspection identifies serious concerns at a prison.

As his findings were revealed, the MoJ confirmed it had taken over running of the jail from G4S for at least six months.

As part of the unprecedented “step in”, a public-sector governor was placed in charge of the prison.

publishing an action plan drawn up in response to Mr Clarke’s urgent notification, the MoJ said a 300-person reduction in HMP Birmingham’s population is two-thirds complete and expected to be finished by the end of this month.

In other measures, 32 additional officers have been drafted in, safety teams are working to reduce self-harm and violence and cell refurbishments are ongoing.

Mr Gauke said: “We acted decisively at HMP Birmingham by taking it over from G4S, just as we are addressing issues in the wider estate by investing heavily in more staff and measures to improve safety and security.

“This plan sets out in more detail exactly what we are doing to establish an effective regime, restore safety and decent living conditions, and allow staff to focus on rehabilitating offenders.”

Built in 1849, HMP Birmingham is a category B facility for adult male inmates. It was the scene of a major riot in 2016.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has published detailed plans to improve standards at HMP Birmingham which follow the unprecedented decision to take over running of the prison from G4S on 20 August, for at least the next six months.

[EXCLUSIVE: What challenges does the new Step In Governor at HMP Birmingham face? published tomorrow in Converse the only other Step In Governor ever to have done this, explains what lays ahead.]

______________________________________________________

MOJ ACTION PLAN.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has published detailed plans to improve standards at HMP Birmingham which follow the unprecedented decision to take over running of the prison from G4S on 20 August, for at least the next six months.

The Prison Service placed a new experienced Governor, Paul Newton, in charge immediately and has also brought in 32 skilled prison officers and five new custodial managers (who oversee teams of officers) to provide support to colleagues and offenders and improve safety.

The 300-person reduction in HMP Birmingham’s population which the MoJ committed to after ‘step-in’ is two-thirds complete and is expected to be finished by the end of September, with four local courts now diverting some of those convicted or on remand to other prisons. This reduction will allow the prison to empty and improve three wings in the Victorian section of the prison which are most in need of refurbishment.

Safety teams brought in by the Prison Service are working with all staff at HMP Birmingham to reduce self-harm and violence. They have developed a tailored safety plan which will be implemented by the end of September, and training is already underway with all staff to immediately improve the way vulnerable offenders are managed.

Two senior and experienced facilities management staff are working with the prison to drive urgent improvement in living conditions. They will support ongoing work to refurbish wings and cells, replace damaged furniture and improve cleanliness throughout the establishment.

The action plan published today is the formal response to HMIP’s Urgent Notification – a system set up by this Government to allow the inspectorate to immediately flag serious concerns during an inspection.

Justice Secretary David Gauke said:

We acted decisively at HMP Birmingham by taking it over from G4S, just as we are addressing issues in the wider estate by investing heavily in more staff and measures to improve safety and security.

The Prison Service had been working with G4S for many months to drive up standards at Birmingham, but it became clear that they would not be able to make the necessary improvements alone.

That’s why we took over the running of the prison, appointed a strong governor to turn it around, brought in extra staff and began improvements to the building itself.

This plan sets out in more detail exactly what we are doing to establish an effective regime, restore safety and decent living conditions, and allow staff to focus on rehabilitating offenders.

Other actions included in this initial plan include:

  • The work that Governor Paul Newton has done with G4S to consider short-term workforce issues, effective management of workforce plans and training requirements. Together they have developed and introduced recruitment, training and mentoring strategies for all staff, including senior managers.
  • The national drugs taskforce undertaking an assessment of what further action is required to tackle drug supply and reduce demand, and improve the treatment and recovery of those with misuse problems.
  • A review of the Samaritans’ Listener scheme to ensure vulnerable prisoners have swift access to support.
  • New processes to ensure maintenance of cell call bells systems is undertaken on a regular basis and to improve cell bell response times.
  • Improvements to training and work-related activities and to support prisoners on release.
  • Two new physical education instructors brought in to improve the wellbeing of prisoners, with another due imminently.

Notes

  • Read the full action plan.
  • The final inspection report for HMP Birmingham will be published by HM Chief Inspector later this year.

HMP BIRMINGHAM: BANG TO WRITES

“The first priority of any prison should be to keep those who are held or work there safe, in this regard HMP Birmingham had completely failed.”

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Two weeks ago when the Gate at Birmingham Prison banged shut behind Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, he must have thought as he walked away to write his Report: ‘how on earth could it have got to this?’

How indeed?

Behind him he left a prison he’d found in “an appalling state” with high violence, widespread bullying, squalid living conditions and poor control by fearful staff, who suffered an arson attack on their supposedly secure car park during the inspection.

Birmingham is only the second jail ever to be assessed by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) as poor, its lowest assessment, across all key aspects of prison life.

How did we get here?

Until a year or so ago the problem with our prison system had just two basic roots – and to a large extent it still does.

The first is a public who demand ever longer sentences and harsher prison conditions, despite a wealth of evidence that neither reduces crime and serves only to land them with a £15bn a year bill for reoffending.

The second has been the failure of politicians on all sides to rise to the challenge, to stand up to the public and argue for what they know the evidence shows is in everyone’s best interest: reducing reoffending is brought about through engagement, decency, respect, humane conditions and support – all things far too many of our prisons cannot deliver.

Politicians need to educate the public that treating prisoners humanely is not being soft on crime – humane treatment of prisoners has nothing to do with punishment, and everything to do with investing prisoners (whatever they’ve done) with the rights of a human being – and that is always a test that we must pass, not them.

Eighteen months (and three Justice Secretary’s) ago, Liz Truss sought to bring common sense to the law and order debate with a change of direction, the White Paper she published on Prison Reform would have gone a long way towards making real progress, but it was not to be.

Theresa May then went for her infamous walk and the White Paper, much like her parliamentary majority, was tossed in the trash.

But while all that makes for fine theory, it is the dreadful translation of that recipe for chaos into practice that has brought the prison system to its knees.

The minefield that is our prison system today goes back to 2013 when Tory Justice Secretary Chris Grayling  slashed front line prison officer numbers by 7000 (and cut budgets by over £900m) when he introduced VEDS – Voluntary Early Departure Scheme; in effect – redundancy.

And this at a time when prisoner numbers were rapidly increasing too.

When I first learnt of the scale of the frontline cuts Grayling was going to make I fully expected the Prison Officers Association (POA) to mount large scale protests across the prison estate to fight them – but not a bit of it.

There was not even a whimper from the POA – and the reason?

The VEDS package (coupled with the promise by Grayling to end prison privatisation) was so generous that it ‘bought off’ any objection to the staff cuts from the POA – indeed not only were the POA complicit in the staff cuts, but the evidence shows their own bid to run the prison actually involved 150 LESS staff than the winning G4S bid offered – something the POA seem today to have quietly forgotten.

And VEDS really was generous too – Grayling blew more than £50million in just one year sacking staff at Britain’s overcrowded jails; in 2013 the Prison Service spent £56.5million on severance payments – ten times the amount spent in 2012.

Its not rocket science – you can’t run a modern, safe, humane, reforming prison system with a handful of staff and on tuppence ha’penny.

And, its got nothing to do with Birmingham being a private prison – that’s a red herring.

The moral argument is no one should earn a profit from imprisonment – well tell that to the 25,000 prison officers when they collect their ‘profit’ each month.

I’m a pragmatist – I don’t care whose name is over the prison gate, I’m more concerned with what happens to real people who live and work on the other side of it.

The truth is there are good and bad public and private prisons – and don’t forget until we had private prisons in 1992 our prison system was in an even worse state than it is today.

With private prisons came integral sanitation – instead of a bucket prisoners were required to urinate and defecate in and ‘slop out’ – also with private prisons came access to telephones, reduction in mail censorship, evening family visits, drug and alcohol detox, offending behaviour courses and until 1992 time out of cell was 11 hours a week – with the opening of the first private prison that became 11 hours a day.

We have had private prisons for almost 30 years and generally they have worked quite well – the difference now is that the government austerity spending cuts have driven down private sector contracts to such low levels that they are simply unsustainable – we see that with Birmingham (not to mention Liverpool, Nottingham and Exeter) and we saw it too with Prison Service facilities management company Carillion.

There is one thing however about the privatised Birmingham prison that is different to other failing public sector jails – public prisons don’t have a wicket keeper.

When private prisons were introduced Parliament insisted that behind every private prison Governor must sit a ‘Controller’, an experienced public sector prison governor, there to monitor how the contract to run the prison was being delivered – and where they believe the Governor was at risk of losing control, to ‘step in’ and take over.

There were four, full-time, Controllers at HMP Birmingham, Peter Clarke suggested they were all ‘asleep at the wheel’ and that’s impossible to disagree with given that none of them appeared to notice that security, order, safety and control at the prison had been lost.

What is the solution?

Recent speeches by Justice Secretary David Gauke, and his Prisons Minister Rory Stewart, show they have clearly recognised the dire state the prison system is in, and there has been a raft of welcome policy initiatives to address identified problems.

We have seen a commitment to end rough sleeping, a package to steer the vulnerable away from custody, a drive to address the problems at the ten most challenging prisons, and a £9m ‘blitz’ on drugs in prison too.

These are welcome and useful – but they are also piecemeal, disjointed and there is no overall clarity of ‘mission’ that pulls them all together – you won’t reduce reoffending by sticking plasters over prison problems and ignoring the much bigger picture.

What we need now is a Public Inquiry, not just into the debacle that is Birmingham, but the prison system as a whole – defining not only how we get out of this mess but drafting the course of prisons and probation development well into the 2030’s.

We need to clearly define the ‘mission’ of our prison system.

What, exactly, do we as a society want our prison system to deliver in terms of punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation, reducing reoffending and victim care?

Once we have the mission clear, then we just need to pay for its delivery.

At present we are on our EIGHTH Justice Secretary since 2010, and the Prison Service itself in that time has been reorganised four times too – from Prison Service to Correctional Services, to NOMS and now to HMPPS.

Our Prison Service is disorientated by changes of organisation, leadership and the disarray caused by abrupt policy and funding changes that inevitably flow from a change at the top.

It has to stop.

Birmingham prison needs to be the point where a halt is called, where emotion is taken out of the law and order debate, and the future of our prison and probation services are handed over to an impartial public inquiry where evidence and not rhetoric shows what works best for everyone.

Birmingham Prison – A Troubled History

HMP Birmingham, one of the country’s largest jails, has seen soaring drug-fuelled violence and serious disorder in recent years.

In December 2016, while run by G4S, the category B prison was rocked by the worst outbreak of rioting at an English jail in more than two decades.

Inmates caused widespread damage after seizing control of four wings and releasing 500 prisoners from their cells during the disturbance – which lasted for more than 12 hours.

Riot squads had to be deployed to the prison after reports of prisoners setting fire to stairwells and destroying paper records.

One man, believed to be in his 20s, was taken to hospital with a facial injury as well as cuts and bruises, but no prison staff were injured.

Some 240 prisoners were moved out of the prison as a result.

Seven men were later convicted of prison mutiny for their role in the rioting.

The city centre jail, formerly known as Winson Green, can hold up to 1,450 inmates and was taken over by G4S in 2011.

A June 2017 inspection found it had been gripped by drug-fuelled violence, with many inmates feeling “unsafe” behind bars.

The first official report since the riot concluded there was too much fighting on wings, often triggered by easy access to “problematic” new psychoactive substances.

Half of the prisoners surveyed also told inspectors it was “easy to get drugs”, with one in seven reporting they were getting hooked on drugs while in the jail.

The inspection also found the use of mobile phones and drones to arrange and deliver contraband, such as the highly addictive Spice, over the Victorian jail’s high walls was also “a significant threat”.

Three months later staff were involved in another stand-off with inmates following a disturbance.

A number of prisoners refused to return to their cells at the end of an evening.

Specially trained prison staff resolved the incident, which lasted almost seven hours, with no injuries to staff or prisoners.

The prison made headlines again earlier this month after nine cars were torched during an arson attack on the staff car park.

Two masked men used an angle grinder to cut their way into the parking compound before dousing vehicles in flammable liquid.

Further damage was prevented after the men, one of whom was armed with a handgun, were confronted by two prison staff.

The incident came as an unannounced inspection of the prison was carried out.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons later wrote to the Justice Secretary to raise the “significant concerns” about the state of HMP Birmingham.

Peter Clarke took the step of issuing an urgent notification to David Gauke about the jail, warning it had “slipped into crisis” following a “dramatic deterioration” in the last 18 months.

On Monday it was announced HMP Birmingham was being taken back under Government control.

Birmingham Prison: A Prisons Where “Violence is rife and staff are fearful” Says Ex-inmate

Violence is rife, staff are even more fearful than prisoners, and drug use is routine inside HMP Birmingham, according to an inmate who was released on Monday.

Other prisoners being freed after completing their sentences claimed mobile phones were changing hands inside the jail for around £150.

One inmate, waiting for a relative to pick him up after being released from a six-week sentence, said: “It’s fair to say most of the prisoners are terrified in there but the screws are even more terrified than the prisoners.

“I’m surprised it has taken so long for the inspectors to do something – there are drugs everywhere. The place is a joke.”

Another man, in his 20s, told reporters: “I’ve just spent six weeks in there and the conditions are pretty shit, to be honest – from what I have seen there are a lot of drugs.

“Drugs have taken over the prison and G4S have just let it happen. The prisoners were in control and it doesn’t feel safe.

“There were a lot of people on my wing that just stayed behind the door because they were scared to come out.”

A third inmate being freed from the jail’s main gate said he believed prisoners had gained more influence since a 15-hour riot in 2016 during which a bunch of keys were taken from a warder and used to unlock cells.

“I’ve been inside for five-and-a-half years and I think the prisoners run it, to be honest – and that’s the best way in my opinion.”

Some of the men being released also claimed that trainers were often stolen, leaving more vulnerable inmates wearing flip-flops on wings where even the smallest argument could trigger serious violence.

None of the men would give their names.

“Asleep At The Wheel” Says Chief Inspector of Prisons

Mark Leech: “Where the hell was the Ministry of Justice ‘Controller’?

The prisons watchdog has accused the Ministry of Justice of failing to stop one of the country’s largest prisons slipping into crisis.

Peter Clarke suggested “somebody must have been asleep at the wheel” for conditions at HMP Birmingham to deteriorate so drastically.

Mr Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons, lamented “institutional inertia” as he published a devastating assessment of the jail.

His report said staff were found asleep or locked in offices during an inspection that uncovered “appalling” squalor and violence.

Some inmates were so frightened they reported feeling unsafe behind locked cell doors – while violent prisoners could act with “near impunity”.

Many staff felt fearful and unsafe after a number of incidents, including an arson attack that destroyed nine vehicles in a car park.

Mr Clarke’s inspection team found blatant use of illegal substances went largely unchallenged amid a “looming lack of control”.

At one point, staff were said to have shrugged when inspectors pointed out that drugs were being smoked.

As Mr Clarke’s findings were revealed, the MoJ confirmed it has taken control of the privately-run jail after ministers concluded “drastic action” was required.

Speaking on Monday, the chief inspector said:”How is it that in 18 months a prison which is supposedly being run under the auspices of a tightly-managed contract, how has that been allowed to deteriorate?

“There are Ministry of Justice officials on-site permanently, and yet somehow there seems to have been some sort of institutional inertia that has allowed this prison to deteriorate to this completely unacceptable state.”

Asked whether the MoJ had failed, Mr Clarke told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think that’s the only reasonable conclusion you can come to.”

He added: “It cannot be the case that the only time urgent action is taken to restore decency in a prison is when an inspection report is published, surely somebody must have been asleep at the wheel?”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook said the shocking events at Birmingham show ‘the uselessness’ of on-site MOJ staff.

Mr Leech said: “Every private prison has a highly experienced Ministry of Justice prison Governor sitting right behind the private prison Director, and known as the “Controller”

“The Controller’s job is to observe and where it becomes obvious that the Director is losing control of the prison, it is their job to step in and take over – where the hell were they is my question?

“Their role has descended from one of supervisor to that of stocktaker, counting and ticking contractual performance boxes – Birmingham shows the danger of that role dilution.”

From Monday HM Prison and Probation Service took over the running of the jail from G4S for an initial six-month period.

Following the highly unusual intervention, an HMPPS governor has taken charge, an initial 30 extra officers are to be deployed to bolster staffing levels, and the jail’s capacity is being reduced by 300 places.

The Government, which has stressed there will be no additional cost to the taxpayer, says the action was taken following an “extended period” of working with G4S in an attempt to drive up standards at the jail.

Multiple “improvement notices” have been issued this year, according to the MoJ.

It said steps had already been taken to reduce the capacity, re-balance the population and provide additional funding for body-worn cameras, drug detection equipment and netting.

Acknowledging that it was a “shocking” situation, Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said: “This is partly the responsibility of me as the Prisons Minister, of the Government and also of G4S, which is why we’ve taken the step of moving in, bringing in our own management team and reducing the prisoners.”

Speaking to Channel 4 News, Mr Stewart said he did not think the issue lay with G4S being a private company rather than public sector.

“It’s true these are private sector companies so they make profits when they run these things well,” he said.

“They certainly will not be making a profit here. We will be taking out 300 prisoners and bringing in a new management team, at their cost.”

Downing Street backed G4S to run prisons despite the problems in Birmingham, citing its work at other facilities including HMP Oakwood in Staffordshire.

As the fallout continued, it also emerged that an official investigation concluded that a riot at the prison in 2016 “could and should have been prevented”.

The report on the disturbance, released by the MoJ under freedom of information rules, said staff had become “worn down” by chronic staffing shortages and had “gradually relinquished authority” to the prisoners who were “in effect policing themselves for much of the time”.

After an unannounced inspection at HMP Birmingham concluded earlier this month, Mr Clarke triggered the “urgent notification” scheme to alert the Government to his findings.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the crisis “shows just how shortsighted the policy is of privatising services”, while shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: “Tory privatisation is now putting the public in danger.”

G4S, which has run the jail since October 2011, welcomed the six month “step-in”, saying the well-being and safety of prisoners and staff is its key priority.

The firm said the prison faces “exceptional challenges” including “increasingly high levels of prisoner violence towards staff and fellow prisoners”.

Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, said the announcement is “no reflection” on its members at Birmingham and across England and Wales.

He said: “They have been placed in an unacceptable position by failed Government policies and now once again it will be brave prison officers and related grades picking up the pieces.”

The Prison Governors Association said HMP Birmingham has been “one of the most challenging” in the system for years, irrespective of whether it was run by the private or public sector.

Built in 1849, HMP Birmingham is a category B facility for adult male inmates and had a population of 1,269 at the end of last month.