Birmingham Prison: Government takeover from G4S extended for another six months

Prisons Minister says situation remains 'fragile' and removing support now risks 'jeopardising the progress made'

May Bulman
Tuesday 12 February 2019 11:27
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Prisons minister Rory Stewart admits government shouldn't have cut officer numbers

Birmingham Prison is to remain in government hands for a further six months due to the “fragile” state of the jail, the government has said.

The Prison Service stepped in to operate HMP Birmingham last August after an inspection uncovered soaring violence, drug use and appalling living conditions.

Announcing the extension on Tuesday, Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said while he was confident that the action taken had “begun to arrest the decline and brought signs of improvement”, the situation remained ”fragile” and removing the support now would risk ”jeopardising the progress made”.

He said: “We have been clear that the situation at HMP Birmingham was unacceptable, and that the step-in was not only necessary but would be extended unless we were satisfied that sufficient progress had been made.

“We have therefore taken the decision to extend the step-in until the summer, when the position will be reviewed. This will provide time for the changes we are making to bed in, for improvements to gather pace, and for a conclusion to be reached on the longer-term future of the prison.”

When the government announced it was to temporarily take over the prison last year, Ministry of Justice insiders told The Independent their deployment will likely lead to a crackdown on “indiscipline” and contraband in the prison.

Some 300 inmates would also be temporarily moved out to ease pressure on staff, with those transferred spread across the prison estate, they said.

Officials insisted there would be no extra cost to the government, claiming G4S’s failure to improve the prison up to now represented a breach of contract that means the firm itself would have to cover it.

It is the first time the government has intervened so heavily in the middle of a private firm’s contract, with G4S still set to run the prison until 2026.

It comes after figures last month revealed that self-harm and violence in prisons had hit another record high and inmate suicides had risen considerably, in what campaigners described as a “national scandal”.

The overall number of deaths in prisons increased by 10 per cent over the last year to 325. Of these, 92 were self-inflicted – a 31 per cent increase on the previous 12 months.

An inspection report published on Tuesday found that in HMP Durham, seven prisoners had killed themselves since the last inspection in December 2016 and another five had died suspected drug-related deaths.

Violent incidents doubled in the period and the use of force by prison officers trebled. More than 350 acts of self-harm were recorded in just six months.

A G4S spokesperson said: “We are continuing to work closely with the Ministry of Justice to bring about improvements at HM Prison Birmingham.”

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