HMP Birmingham – a mixed bag of some progress in tackling violence and squalor, but weaknesses in education and management of sex offenders

HMP Birmingham has made reasonable progress in tackling the violence, drug use and squalor evident in a disturbing inspection of the prison in the summer of 2018.

However, an Independent Review of Progress (IRP) in May 2019 found a mixed overall picture, with insufficient progress in tackling antisocial behaviour and in improving work, training and education for most prisoners. There was no meaningful progress in work to support the large number of sex offenders to address their offending behaviour.

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Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, recalled that HMP Birmingham was found to be in an “appalling state” during an inspection in August 2018, with the treatment of prisoners among the worst inspectors had seen in recent years. He was so concerned that he invoked the rarely-used Urgent Notification Protocol. Birmingham was then run by G4S but it has since been announced that it will return to the public sector.

At the IRP visit in May 2019, Mr Clarke said, inspectors found that the prison “had worked exceptionally hard to address violence. The causes of violence were now well understood and a range of actions had been taken to make the prison safer.” Levels of violence had decreased since 2018, though they remained considerably higher than the average for similar prisons.

There had been no progress at all on the recommendation that:

  • The prison should implement a strategy to manage and progress sex offenders in order to address their offending behaviour, who cannot be appropriately progressed, specific and sufficient offending behaviour work should be provided at Birmingham. The skills mix in the offender management unit should be improved, to reflect the need to work effectively with a large high-risk population.

There had been insufficient progress on recommendations that:

  • the perpetrators of violence and antisocial behaviour should be subject to appropriate administrative or disciplinary actions
  • all victims of violence and antisocial behaviour should be identified and assisted with comprehensive support plans which include access to regime activities
  • progress leaders and managers have made in implementing an education, skills and work provision that meets the prison population’s needs, including the prioritisation of sentenced prisoners’ session attendance
  • English and mathematics development and pre-release preparation
  • there should be a fundamental improvement in the quality of care for prisoners in distress and those at risk of self-harm who should be properly supported, and triggers addressed such as poor living conditions and isolation.

There had been reasonable progress on recommendations that:

  • The prison’s drug supply and demand strategy should be further developed, to identify additional practical measures to stop the ingress of drugs and reduce demand more robustly. It should include measures to develop a culture that does not tolerate drug use and actively supports those who are using to stop.
  • Staff should be effectively supervised, coached and trained to maintain appropriate professional standards and provide a proper balance of care and control.
  • All steps, including consultation with prisoners, should be taken to understand and analyse the causes of violence and antisocial behaviour. Actions should be taken to reduce violence, and the effectiveness of these should be monitored over time.
  • Gaps and weaknesses in public protection arrangements should be identified and urgent remedial action should be taken to protect victims and potential victims.
  • What progress have leaders and managers made in identifying and addressing fully the needs of prisoners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, who attend education programmes, so they achieve to an appropriately high level? Addresses previous inspection report recommendation.
  • Measures to ensure prisoners faced sanctions for their poor behaviour looked encouraging but had only recently been introduced and were not yet working effectively. Similarly, considerable efforts had been made to identify victims of violence and bullying but as yet too little support had been offered.

Inspectors no longer observed overt drug use on the wings, Mr Clarke said. However, one in four prisoners were still testing positive for drugs “and I found it inexplicable that the prison had been unable to secure funding for equipment such as a body scanner to help them stop drugs entering the prison.”

Relationships between staff and prisoners had improved, and the prison felt more ordered and controlled. In August 2018 inspectors had found that control in the “fundamentally unsafe” prison was tenuous. In 2019, “staff were more accountable, better supported and more able to establish appropriate boundaries and challenge poor prisoner behaviour.” The prison was also now much cleaner.

The prison had made reasonable progress in identifying and addressing the needs of prisoners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. But progress across other areas of education, skills and work, assessed by Ofsted inspectors, was insufficient. “The provision did not meet most prisoners’ needs – most critically the substantial number of prisoners requiring English and mathematics education. Attendance at activities was low.”

Many of the weaknesses in public protection arrangements evident in 2018 had been addressed. However, Mr Clarke added: “The prison had devised a strategy to manage and progress the substantial number of prisoners convicted of sexual offences but, with no support or agreement from across the wider HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), the strategy was unrealistic and likely to fail.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“It is only right that I recognise the scale of the task to improve the treatment and conditions for prisoners at Birmingham. It is huge. There is no doubt that the prison faces a long journey of recovery. It is very clear that the governor, through his vision and very visible leadership, has energised the staff and undoubted pride and optimism are emerging around the prison. I think that optimism is well founded. Birmingham has already made some tangible improvements and has the capacity for further change and improvement if it retains strong leadership and if those responsible for Birmingham at national and regional level provide it with the support necessary to sustain what has begun.”

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

On the face of it, this is a fairly balanced report, showing that Birmingham under the step-in powers (that become permanent next month) has made real progress under the Governorship of the rightly-regarded Paul Newton – but the problem I have with it, and it’s a failure running through all of Peter Clarke’s reporting – including this one –  is the complete lack of detail in terms of support for his findings.

All Inspectorate reports contain ‘partially achieved’ assessments, but the Chief Inspector has publicly confirmed there is no criteria for these assessments; it depends on the judgement of the inspector on the day. Moreover, requests for copies of the notes taken by Inspectors to support those assessments have been refused by the Chief Inspector.

The same flaw has regrettably infected these new ‘Interim Reviews of Progress’.

For example in this report, he lists areas where there has been ‘no progress’, ‘insufficient progress’, and ‘reasonable progress’, but he gives absolutely no detail whatsoever as to the evidence to support those conclusions nor, where he finds a lack of progress, does he set out what needs to be done for progress to be made.

This is contrary to previous Chief Inspectors who when they made assessments provided clear evidence to support their conclusions.

This has been a constant feature of this chief inspector and it is one that he has continually failed to remedy.

Additionally, while Clarke makes sweeping statements such as he made about Bristol prison recently (that the prison was fully staffed) he gives no details about that staffing, nor the basis upon which the calculations as to a full complement of staff are based.

A further common flaw in Clarke’s reports has been to make recommendations without any thought as to where the resources are to come from to implement those recommendations – and he later then castigates the prison for their failure to implement those very same recommendations which in many cases were destined to fil for a lack of resources to implement them from the beginning.

Peter Clarke is due to retire next February from this role, my hope is that whoever replaces him brings a greater understanding of the problems faced by our prisons than Clarke has brought to the role.

Read the Report

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.”

Deaths in Custody: The Noose Around The Ombudsman’s Neck

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open letter from Mark Leech The Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales, to The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman

 

Dear Sue,

Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation Recommendation.

Did you bother reading each of those words – or notice I had inserted a number in one of them?

Actually, I didn’t, but you went back anyway and read them again; right?

Unfortunately, that isn’t what happens to the ‘Recommendations’ you make in your Fatal Incident Reports into deaths in custody; people don’t go back and read them again.

When you set out your ‘Recommendations’ designed to learn lessons and reduce deaths in custody, no one takes a blind bit of notice of them – and, what’s worse, your Office ignores the fact they’re ignored too.

Tragically you’re not alone in looking the other way. Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) in whose prisons these deaths take place, and to whom monitoring the implementation of these Recommendations should be a priority, ignore them too. Year after year, they simply airbrush them out of their Annual Reports as if they have never been made; I will return to this shortly.

Every single Prisons Ombudsman that’s gone before you in the last 25 years at least had the excuse that they’ve never unlocked a prison cell door and found a prisoner swinging dead with a noose around their neck; but as a former Prison Governor you don’t have the luxury of that excuse. You know exactly what it’s like: the shock, horror, frantic attempts at resuscitation, and the wave of utter devastation that then descends on the whole prison afterwards.

Yet, despite that personal experience deaths in custody keep happening and frequently too; as I write this we are six weeks into 2019 and already 20 people have died in our prisons – 17 of whom have seemingly taken their own lives, and eight definitely have.

Your Office still keeps investigating these deaths, still keeps writing their reports, still keeps making recommendations, and still does absolutely nothing when, time after time, those recommendations are ignored – lamentably this week you’ve done it again.

John Delahaye was 46 years old when he was found dead in his cell at Birmingham Prison on 5 March 2018; let me remind you of the catalogue of errors that lead up to it.

Ten weeks before his death Mr Delahaye was taken from Birmingham prison and admitted to hospital almost certainly having taken an insulin overdose; he returned to prison 24 hours later.

In your report into his death published this week, you write:

“When Mr Delahaye returned to Birmingham on 1 January following this overdose, there was no handover between hospital and prison healthcare staff and prison healthcare staff did not know he had returned to prison until the next day. 

I am also concerned that suicide and self-harm monitoring procedures (known as ACCT) were not started until the day after he had returned to prison. In addition, I have concerns about the way the ACCT procedures were managed when they were started. Staff did not effectively investigate why Mr Delahaye had taken the overdose and healthcare staff were not involved. The ACCT was closed prematurely two weeks later, with little having been done to identify or mitigate Mr Delahaye’s risk to himself. This was compounded by the fact that Mr Delahaye was discharged from mental health services after just one appointment.

I am concerned to be repeating recommendations to Birmingham about suicide and self-harm prevention procedures. [emphasis added]

“It is very difficult to understand why Mr Delahaye was allowed to have his insulin back in his possession less than a month after his overdose. I am concerned that NHS guidelines were not followed when this decision was made. 

“I also have serious concerns about the way staff at Birmingham conducted roll checks and unlocks. When Mr Delahaye was found on the morning of 5 March, he had clearly been dead for some time and it seems possible that no member of staff had seen him for more than 13 hours.

“This needs to be rectified urgently. 

“Staff also failed to use an emergency code when they found Mr Delahaye unresponsive. Although this did not affect the outcome for Mr Delahaye, it could make a critical difference in other cases.” 

Now, take a moment to look too at the Birmingham Prison IMB Annual Report published just 10 weeks ago and covering the period in which Mr Delahaye died in the prison. Neither his name, the circumstances of his death, nor the fact that your repeated recommendations had been ignored, are ever mentioned; not even once – they’re airbrushed out of existence; small wonder then why so many consider the IMB as completely and utterly useless?

I would remind you that your Office is not investigating the loss of someone’s property here, but the loss of someone’s life; yet it consistently fails to understand this vital distinction.

I accept the fact you are new to this role, and while there are those who say that as a former Prison Governor you are not the right person to be holding this critical Independent Office, I’m not yet one of them. I think your experience as a Governor means you know where to look, what questions to ask, what answers to demand and having opened cell doors and cut dead people down you know exactly how important all this really is.

The question is: when will we see action from your Office and not just words that everyone, including IMBs, totally ignore?

Yours sincerely,

Mark Leech

Editor: The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales

@prisonsorguk

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.]

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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.

Chief prisons inspector demands urgent government action to tackle appalling violence and squalor at HMP Birmingham

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons has called on the Justice Secretary to launch an urgent and independent enquiry to understand how the privately run HMP Birmingham, one of Britain’s biggest jails, has “slipped into crisis” in only 18 months.

Inspectors found the prison 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. It 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.

Peter Clarke told David Gauke that the prison had suffered a “dramatic deterioration” since the last inspection in early 2017, when inspectors found it was still shocked after disturbances at the end of 2016 but was showing a determination to improve. Just 18 months later it was assessed as poor in HMIP’s four ‘healthy prison tests’ – safety, respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning.

HMP Birmingham is managed by the private contractor G4S, in a contract with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). Mr Clarke said he believed no long-term progress could be achieved until the reasons for such a swift and dramatic decline in Birmingham were fully understood. However, he stressed, an enquiry into what had gone wrong with the contract management and delivery must not be allowed to stand in the way of the “urgent and pressing need to address the squalor, violence, prevalence of drugs and looming lack of control that currently afflict HMP Birmingham.”

Mr Clarke has invoked the Urgent Notification protocol, signed in November 2017 and designed to enable the Chief Inspector to put the Secretary of State publicly on notice that urgent action is needed to address significant concerns at a jail. The protocol has only been used twice before, at HMP Exeter and HMP Nottingham. Mr Clarke today published the letter he sent on 16 August to Mr Gauke, with a briefing note drawn closely from the debrief for the Director of the prison at the end of the inspection. The letter and note depict some of the most disturbing evidence that inspectors, who visited Birmingham between 30 July and 9 August 2018, have seen in any prison:

  • Over the last year, Birmingham was the most violent local prison in England and Wales. Those perpetrating the violence “could do so with near impunity.”
  • Inspectors saw many prisoners under the influence of drugs and blatant drug use went largely unchallenged.
  • Control across the prison was tenuous, with staff often not knowing where their prisoners were and “a general lack of order on some wings.”
  • Many staff were inexperienced, lacking confidence and skills, and were poorly led. Many, also, were fearful. During the inspection, criminals launched an arson attack on the supposedly secure staff car park.
  • Communal areas were filthy, with cockroaches, vermin, blood and vomit left uncleaned. Staff and managers appeared to have become inured to these conditions, some of the worst inspectors had seen. In older wings, virtually every window was damaged and many were missing.
  • Education, work and training were ‘inadequate’ and measures to protect the public from high-risk men – while in prison and on release – were very poor.

Concluding his letter, Mr Clarke wrote:

“I was astounded that HMP Birmingham had been allowed to deteriorate so dramatically over the 18 months since the previous inspection. A factor in my decision to invoke the Urgent Notification protocol is that at present I can have no confidence in the ability of the prison to make improvements. There has clearly been an abject failure of contract management and delivery…The inertia that seems to have gripped both those monitoring the contract and delivering it on the ground has led to one of Britain’s leading jails slipping into a state of crisis.”

Notes

  1. Mr Clarke’s Urgent Notification letter to Mr Gauke, and the accompanying note, can be found here.
  2. On 30 November 2017, Mr Clarke and David Lidington, then Justice Secretary, signed the Urgent Notification protocol – an extension of the existing working protocol between HMI Prisons and the Ministry of Justice. Mr Clarke said at the time: “The Secretary of State has accepted that he and his successors will be held publicly accountable for delivering an urgent, robust and effective response when HMI Prisons assesses that treatment or conditions in a jail raise such significant concerns that urgent action is required. The protocol requires the Secretary of State to respond to an Urgent Notification letter from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons within 28 days. The Chief Inspector’s notification and the Secretary of State’s response will both be published.
  3. The most recent two-week inspection of HMP Birmingham began on 30 July 2018 and ended on 9 August. The inspection was unannounced.
  4. The debriefing note accompanying the Urgent Notification letter to the Secretary of State is drawn from the initial HMI Prisons findings shared with the Director of HMP Birmingham. As is the case with all HMI Prisons inspections, these early findings are indicative and may be changed at the discretion of the Chief Inspector, after due consideration or following the emergence of new evidence (all HMI Prisons evidence and conclusions are subject to a rigorous fact-checking process). However, it was the view of the Chief Inspector that the initial findings at HMP Birmingham were clear and concerning enough to warrant his decision to invoke the Urgent Notification protocol.
  5. A full report on HMP Birmingham will be published in due course, around 18 weeks after the end of the inspection.