HMP Birmingham HMIP Inspections

The prison was given a full inspection in July and August 2018. In his report the inspector said:

HMP Birmingham is a category B local prison serving courts in the country’s second largest city as well as other parts of the West Midlands. Holding up to 1,450 adult men ranging from those recently remanded to others serving significant sentences, it is a large, complex and extremely important institution. For the last seven years the prison has been operated under contract by G4S. This was the fourth time we had inspected the prison while the company was in charge.

Our previous visit was in February 2017, an inspection complicated by the fact that two months earlier the prison had experienced a major disturbance. At the time, we found a prison clearly still reeling from the shock of that event, but also took encouragement from what we observed to be a clear determination to recover and rebuild. The contrast with our findings at this unannounced inspection could not have been starker. Far from recovering, the prison had deteriorated dramatically and was in an appalling state. Against all four of our healthy prison tests – safety, respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning – we assessed outcomes as poor, our lowest assessment. This is only the second time we have made such judgements, a fact that speaks clearly to the seriousness of my concerns. 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.

As a consequence, and in accordance with the protocol I have with the Ministry of Justice, on 16 August 2018 I wrote to the Secretary of State invoking the Urgent Notification (UN) process regarding HMP Birmingham (see Appendix III). In that letter, and in the inspection debriefing paper that accompanied it, I out set out in detail my concerns and the judgements that had caused me to follow that course of action. Under the protocol, the Secretary of State commits to respond publicly to the UN within 28 days, explaining how outcomes for those detained will be improved. The Secretary of State’s response, for which I am grateful, is detailed in Appendix III of this report.

I do not intend to use this introduction to repeat the details of my concerns. Suffice to say, at this inspection, we found an institution that was fundamentally unsafe, where many prisoners and staff lived and worked in fear, where drug taking was barely concealed, delinquency was rife and where individuals could behave badly with near impunity. Control in the prison was tenuous, staff were poorly led and many lacked the confidence or the competence to set about retrieving this situation. Many prisoners were living in squalor, little was being done to adequately occupy individuals and the prison was failing in its responsibility to protect the public by preparing prisoners adequately for release. I repeat, the prison was in an appalling state.

In my letter of 16 August, I made clear that a factor in my decision to invoke the UN was my lack of confidence in the prison to make improvements. I also referred to the failure of the prison to implement previous recommendations made by this Inspectorate and, perhaps most importantly, I referred to the inertia that seemed to have gripped those responsible for monitoring and managing the contracts and those meant to be delivering action on the ground. In my letter I called for anhonest appraisal of how the prison had been allowed to slip into crisis. 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? Through the process of improvement and rectification that I trust will now follow, I hope that this call is not lost.

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 that set out the priorities as we see them.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
September 2018
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”


To see the full reports on the Ministry of Justice web site follow the links below, this section contains the reports for Birmingham from 2000 until present

Return to HMP Birmingham

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