The prison was given an inspection in December 2020. In his report the inspector said:
HMP Birmingham is a category B local prison serving courts across the West Midlands that we have heavily criticised in recent years. At our 2018 inspection, our findings were so poor we felt compelled to issue an Urgent Notification to the Secretary of State, seeking immediate improvements. At our subsequent Independent Review of Progress in 2019, we were pleased to report that prison leaders had made progress against many of our recommendations, with significant work done to restore order to the prison.
Historically, Birmingham has held around 1,500 prisoners, but at the time of our scrutiny visit the capacity had been reduced to 977, with three of the older Victorian wings currently closed. We found that much of the progress seen in 2019 had been sustained, although in a few important areas oversight needed improvement to make sure this continued.
The COVID-19 pandemic had created significant challenges for leaders at Birmingham, and the prison had experienced three outbreaks. In the most recent, more than 100 prisoners had tested positive for COVID-19, and the establishment remained an outbreak site at the time of our visit. In addition, it had been returned to level four of the national recovery framework (see Glossary of terms) the day before our visit, restricting regimes significantly.
Leaders had made sure that there was effective communication with staff and prisoners throughout the period of restrictions, and they were visible on all wings, which contributed to a sense of order. Frontline staff were also visible when prisoners were unlocked, and we observed good relationships between staff and prisoners. Maintaining decent living conditions and providing a consistent, if limited, regime for all prisoners were clear priorities, and it was also encouraging to see useful work to actively promote equality and diversity, something many establishments have neglected during this period. Health care was reasonably good, but prisoners waited too long to see a GP or dentist.
Rehabilitation and release planning work was also reasonable; prison offender managers (POMs) and community rehabilitation company staff had maintained face-to-face contact with prisoners, making sure that key assessments were meaningful. Release planning was well organised, prisoners could access through-the-gate support and the new ‘departure lounge’ for prisoners on their day of release was a promising initiative. Around 90% of prisoners were released to sustainable accommodation, which is better than we have found at other local prisons.
In contrast, the reverse cohorting arrangements (see Glossary of terms), designed to prevent new prisoners potentially transmitting COVID-19 to the main population, were weak. Prisoners who arrived up to seven days apart were placed in the same cell, and some social bubbles ( where prisoners associated and exercised in groups) included prisoners who had just arrived mixing with those about to move into the main population. This increased the risk of outbreaks across the prison.
We saw some good work to promote safety although this was undermined by the safety team’s failure to record accurately all acts of violence and self-harm. Incidents were reported and investigated, but at this stage some data was missing, limiting its value to managers in seeking to monitor trends or make improvements.
The provision of education was not good enough. The provider had taken six months to deliver in-cell packs to prisoners and at the time of our visit provision was limited and badly organised. Prisoners waited for long periods to receive work, and when it came, the in-cell packs were sometimes not at the correct level. Prisoners were also uncertain about when they would see teachers or get support. Consequently, many were unenthusiastic about learning and very few had completed a course.
Overall this is an encouraging report. Given Birmingham’s recent history, its continued provision of decent living conditions and a calm, well-ordered environment suggest improvements are being embedded. However, oversight of safety arrangements, practice in the reverse cohorting unit (RCU) and education provision require some immediate attention.
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:
- HMP Birmingham report (PDF), Report on a scrutiny visit to HMP Birmingham by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (24 November 2020 and 5–6 January 2021)
- HMP BirminghamReport July – August 2018
- HMP Birmingham received an Urgent Notification on 16 August 2018
- HMP Birmingham, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Birmingham (6-17 February 2017)
- Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Birmingham (9-13 January 2012) (PDF 0.47mb)
- Report on an unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP Birmingham (2-11 December 2009) (PDF 0.59mb)
- Report on an announced inspection of HMP Birmingham (19-23 February 2007) (PDF 0.69mb)
- Report on an unannounced follow-up inspection of HMP Birmingham (11-13 May 2004) (PDF 0.39mb)
- Report on a full unannounced inspection of HMP Birmingham (21-25 October 2002) (PDF 0.63mb)
- Report on a full announced inspection of HMP Birmingham (10-18 July 2000) (PDF 0.34mb)