08:27, August 20 285 0 theguardian.com

2018-08-20 08:27:38
Why HMP Birmingham has been brought back under state control

What has happened at HMP Birmingham?

The Ministry of Justice has taken the running of the prison off the hands of private-provider G4S and brought responsibility for its operation back under government control following a damning inspection of the jail.

Several inmates will be removed from the prison, which has been run by G4S since 2011, and a new governor is to be appointed.

The government has been keen to stress that this was not a “re-nationalisation”, calling the move a “step-in” and has proposed to return the prison to G4S control in six months.

What did the inspectors say?

An unannounced inspection by HM Inspectorate of Prisons took place between 30 July and 9 August. The findings were shocking.

Inspectors witnessed inmates being intimidated and prisoners squirting urine or throwing faeces through broken observation panels.

They found a vulnerable and distressed man sitting on the springs of his bed, as his mattress had been stolen.

A troubled inmate with personal hygiene issues was repeatedly sprayed with water from a fire hose by other inmates, in what the report described as “appalling bullying”.

One in seven prisoners said they had developed drug addictions during their time inside prison.

What did the inspectorate do?

The chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, invoked the urgent notification process in respect of Birmingham.

This is a relatively new power that has only been used twice before in respect of Exeter and Nottingham prisons, which are both state-run.

The process allows the chief inspector to directly alert the justice secretary if he has an urgent and significant concern about the performance of a prison.

The justice secretary will then publish his response and a plan of action within 28 days.

Has a private prison previously been returned to public control?

The government has not previously taken control of a private prison mid-contract.

However, the government previously removed a prison governor from Serco-run Ashfield prison in 2002.

The Ministry of Justice took over the management of a G4S-run child jail, Medway, in Kent, although the firm had previously announced it was to sell the arm of its business responsible for the prison.

Why is the prison performing so badly?

The Labour party has argued that the crisis at Birmingham prison underlines “the dangerous consequences of the ever-greater privatisation of our justice system”.

The prisons minister, Rory Stewart, said the government is partly to blame, as well as G4S, admitting more staff were needed but prison authorities had failed to get a grip of new psychoactive substances, such as spice.

The government has denied there is a problem with the privatisation of prisons, citing a recent positive report into G4S-run Oakwood prison as an example of when jails can be run successfully by private providers.

An investigation into the 2016 riot at Birmingham prison, released on Monday, attributed the problems to “chronic staff shortages” and the subsequent effect this had on control of the prison.

The Prison Officers’ Association has blamed the problems in Birmingham and other prisons on staff shortages.

Do private prisons have a worse record than public prisons?

There are 14 privately-run prisons in England and Wales and around 100 public sector prisons.

The prisons inspectorate regularly publishes inspection reports, which suggest the problems identified at HMP Birmingham are not unique to private prisons.

Of the three prisons to be subjected to the urgent notification process to date, two were state-run.

Drugs, assaults, self-harm, over-crowding and staff shortages have been flagged across the prison estate, both private and public.

Does the government plan to build more privately-run prisons?

The government plans to build six new prisons designed to provide space for a further 10,000 people.

So far, it has confirmed that a publicly funded prison in Wellingborough and a privately financed jail at Glen Parva in Leicestershire will go ahead, with work starting in Wellingborough at the end of the year.

The remaining prisons will be a mix of private and public models.


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