Alert over `impoverished' jail

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THE CHIEF Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, has criticised the "seriously impoverished" conditions at Birmingham prison.

The prison, known as Winson Green, which holds 1,100 in cells designed to take 743, was described by Sir David as "grossly overcrowded".

He said the Prison Service should rethink the way it runs all "local" prisons, the jails where people are kept before they are tried.

In a report on the prison, Sir David stated that only 10 per cent of prisoners were receiving education, and it had no programmes to treat sex offenders, despite containing a large number of such criminals.

The jail's health centre was described as "the untidiest and dirtiest that inspectors had seen anywhere", although it employed eight cleaners. Prisoners in the health centre were given their last meal of the day at 3.45pm.

Sir David said: "I hope that this report will be read with some concern by ministers and Prison Service headquarters because it is yet another grossly overcrowded `local' prison in which the treatment and conditions of prisoners fall far below the acceptable."

He said that 75 per cent of the prisoners at Birmingham had been sentenced, so they should not have been in a local prison. Up to 700 were unemployed and spent nearly all day locked in cells.

Prison officers were overstretched because when a prisoner was transferred for treatment at an outside hospital, six officers, working in pairs on eight-hour shifts, were required to give 24-hour cover. Sir David reported: "One prisoner has now been on such a watch for over five months. I dread to think what is the cost of six officers a day for over 150 days."

The director-general of the Prison Service, Richard Tilt, said: "I recognise the fact that Birmingham prison currently holds more inmates than it would in an ideal world. However, as a local prison, Birmingham has a duty to accept into custody all those committed to it by the courts in its catchment area."

He said the prison had recently asked for further funding, which would finance a sex-offender programme.