Up to 20 British prisons have drugs, violence problems

Inspectors found inmates appeared to be in control of prison in Birmingham

HMP Birmingham: Inspectors found blood, vomit and rat droppings on the floor of the prison, where drugs were used openly and inmates appeared to be in control.   Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

HMP Birmingham: Inspectors found blood, vomit and rat droppings on the floor of the prison, where drugs were used openly and inmates appeared to be in control. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

 

 Britain’s prisons minister has warned that up to 20 jails are facing problems similar to those in HMP Birmingham, which the government has taken over from private contractor G4S.

Inspectors found blood, vomit and rat droppings on the floor of the prison, where drugs were used openly and inmates appeared to be in control.

Chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke said it was the worst prison he had ever visited.

“If you just think of squalor, filth, the air hanging heavy with the smell of drugs, a dilapidated physical environment, a sense of great instability, the feeling that at any time violence could break out and indeed, of course, the prison was extraordinarily violent anyway as we found out and a lack of control. Put all of that together and what you have is a sense of an establishment that could not possibly fulfil any of the objectives of imprisonment,” he told the BBC.

Mr Clarke said that “somebody must have been asleep at the wheel” to have allowed the prison to descend into such a state. “This is the only jail, and I’ve visited many jails now, where I personally was forced to leave a wing because of the effect the drugs were having on me,” he said.

There were more than 1,100 assaults recorded last year at the prison, which has been run by G4S since 2011 on a 15-year contract. In 2016, it was the scene of Britain’s worst prison riot for 20 years, when inmates went on a 15-hour rampage that caused millions of pounds worth of damage.

Realistic

Prisons minister Rory Stewart said that drug use was the driver for problems faced by up to 20 prisons in England and Wales.

“Birmingham is worst. Birmingham is, of the prisons that we are aware of, the worst and that is reflected in the inspector’s report which is why we have taken the step that we haven’t taken for 25 years in stepping in,” he told LBC radio.

“But we have to be realistic about the fact that there are challenges in many prisons and that is why I selected 10 prisons to really focus on a pilot in addressing drugs and violence.”

Mr Stewart promised last week he would resign if drug use and violence had not decreased within a year in the 10 prisons he has selected for the pilot programme.

The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) on Monday blamed cuts in staff numbers and the demands of the contract placed on G4S.

Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the crisis at Birmingham prison was the latest in a succession of failed privatisations, following the collapse of outsourcing firm Carillion and the renationalisation of East Coast Rail. He called for all further privatisation to be halted.

“Tory privatisation is now putting the public in danger. Birmingham Prison, Carillion and East Coast Rail have all collapsed because of failed Tory privatisation. This has to be a wake-up call and a turning point in how our public services are run so we can protect the public instead of private profit,” he said.