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Express & Star comment: A catalyst for serious change at our prisons

By Star Comment | Opinions | Published:

Inspectors visiting HMP Birmingham have confirmed most people’s worst fears about what is going on inside our jails.

HMP Birmingham

Rampant drug taking, wide-scale bullying and high rates of violence – in short the inmates appear, in some cases, to have taken over control from the officers.

It is absolutely 100 per cent right for the Government to have stepped in and taken control of the prison in Winson Green.

The question now must be asked, however – why did it take them so long?

After riots in 2016, the oversight and monitoring of this notorious prison should have been almost unrelenting and yet, incredibly, it appears to have deteriorated even from that violent low point.

It says everything you need to know that on the day of the inspectors’ unannounced visit there was an arson attack in a supposedly secure car park which destroyed not only staff cars but also those of the inspecting team as well.

Also on the same day, we are told the riot in 2016, which involved more than 500 prisoners, should have been prevented from escalating within 30 minutes.

The investigation blamed chronic staff shortages at the prison.

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Make no mistake, the conditions and the regime at HMP Birmingham are as bad as they could possible get.

And this must now be the catalyst for serious change.

Wolverhampton North East MP Emma Reynolds is absolutely right to question whether G4S is the right body to continue to manage four British prisons including HMP Oakwood near Wolverhampton.

There have been numerous disturbing cases from the 2,071-inmate prison as reported in the pages of the Express & Star in recent years.

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Surely the time has now come for the Government to take a closer look at the management of Oakwood in light of the HMP Birmingham findings.

In fairness, Oakwood has been on the end of improving inspection reports in recent times, but the culture of G4S, as seen through the HMP Birmingham inspection, is deeply concerning.

On a wider issue, the ongoing scandal in Birmingham, one of the country’s biggest prisons, is probably not a one-off.

Prisons, whether privately run or operated by the Government, have for too long been under-resourced, under-staffed and overcrowded.

The answer lies in investing more money into the criminal justice system, building more prisons, locking up more criminals and achieving a more positive balance between deterrent and rehabilitation.

Prisons should not be places that criminals enjoy or look forward to visiting

The Government takeover of HMP Birmingham is a step in the right direction.

G4S must now show it is worthy and can deliver the service the public expect for its £30m contract, otherwise it should take a step back and come to a financial arrangement and let the Ministry of Justice take full control again.

The company is only seven years into a 15-year contract running the prison. Going by its recent management at the jail it will be a huge achievement for bosses to even reach the end of the contract.

This appalling national scandal has to end and it has to end now.

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