Scenes at HMP Birmingham Like A 'War Zone'

4 December 2018, 07:04 | Updated: 4 December 2018, 07:07

HMP Birmingham

Inmates at HMP Birmingham walked around "like zombies" while high on drugs in scenes likened to a war zone, a watchdog report reveals.

Prisoners at the crisis-hit prison in Winson Green flouted rules without challenge from staff, many of whom were "anxious and fearful" as 

they went about their duties, HM Inspectorate of Prisons found.

Its report said: "We witnessed many prisoners under the influence of drugs, and some openly using and trafficking drugs around the site.

"Shockingly, some staff were ambivalent and accepting of such behaviour, and failed to respond to this overt drug misuse."

On one occasion, when inspectors reported smelling drugs an officer was said to have "shrugged and laughed", while another said they had 

"only just come on duty", according to the report.

It quoted one prisoner describing a wing at the jail as "a war zone" with inmates "walking around like zombies, high on Spice".

Spice, a psychoactive substance, has been identified as a major factor in the safety crisis that has hit much of the prisons estate in England 

and Wales.

At the time of the inspection in the summer, HMP Birmingham was run by G4S.

In the wake of the visit, Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke triggered the "urgent notification" scheme to demand immediate action from 

the Government.

As the first details of his findings emerged in August, the Ministry of Justice announced it was taking over the running of the prison for at 

least six months.

Publishing the full inspection report on Tuesday, Mr Clarke renewed his call for an independent assessment into how the prison had been 

allowed to "slip into crisis".

He said: "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?

"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."

The inspectorate's report said:

- In the previous 12 months, there had been more assaults at the establishment than at any other local prison

- Frightened and vulnerable prisoners "self-isolated" in locked cells but could not escape bullying and intimidation

- Control in the prison was "tenuous", with staff often not knowing where prisoners were

- Many cells were dirty, cramped and overcrowded

- The prison was failing in its responsibility to protect the public by preparing prisoners adequately for release, including hundreds of sex offenders

HMP Birmingham, a category B local prison holding up to 1,450 adult men, was hit by a major disturbance in 2016.

Michael Spurr, chief executive of Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service, said the prison faced "significant operational challenges" after 

the riot.

He added: "Good progress is being made. The prison is safer, cleaner, calmer and more ordered.

"But there is more to do and we will continue to work closely with G4S to ensure these improvements endure."

As part of efforts to improve safety and living conditions at the jail, its population has been reduced by 300.

Prisons minister Rory Stewart said: "We have conducted a full and thorough investigation of the situation at Birmingham to understand the 

causes, learn lessons and prevent it happening again.

"We will keep a close eye on progress to ensure Birmingham returns to being a place of stability and reform, and we won't hand the prison 

back until we consider it is safe to do so."

A G4S spokeswoman said: "The well-being and safety of prisoners and prison staff is our key priority and we continue to work with the 

Ministry of Justice to urgently address the issues faced at the prison."