Drug testing suggested that a third of prisoners in HMP Birmingham are using illicit drugs, according to a prison inspectors’ report, while one in seven said they had developed a drug problem since being at the prison. Half of the establishment’s population thought drugs were ‘easy to obtain’, inspectors said.
The prison was made the subject of an ‘urgent notification’ to the justice secretary after an unannounced inspection earlier this month, and a governor and management team from HM Prison Service have since taken over its running from private security services company G4S. There had been a ‘dramatic deterioration’ in the last 18 months, with ‘significant concerns’ about safety, drugs and lack of control, said the notification document.
‘We saw many prisoners under the influence of drugs and the smell of cannabis and other burning substances pervaded many parts of the prison,’ chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke wrote to justice secretary David Gauke. ‘Our own observations confirmed to us that the use and trafficking of illegal substances was blatant. I have inspected many prisons where drugs are a problem, but nowhere else have I felt physically affected by the drugs in the atmosphere – an atmosphere in which it is clearly unsafe for prisoners and staff to live and work.’ When inspectors raised the fact that drugs were ‘clearly being smoked’ on a wing the response from staff was ‘to shrug’, he added.
Levels of violence were the highest of any local prison in the country, said the inspectors’ report, with prisoners and staff frequently requiring hospital treatment as a result of assaults. More than 70 per cent of prisoners reported feeling unsafe at some point – ‘an extraordinarily high figure’, said Clarke – with the prison’s response ‘wholly inadequate’. Three prisoners were known to have killed themselves in the 18 months since the last inspection and there had also been three recent drug-related deaths. ‘Early indications suggested it was likely that misuse of synthetic cannabinoids was involved,’ the document stated.
This year’s annual report from the chief inspector of prisons said that drugs were behind much of the ‘huge increase’ in violence across the prison estate in the last five years, while a report from the Royal College of Nursing warned that the health of its members working in prisons was being put at risk from second hand inhalation of synthetic cannabinoid smoke (DDN, June, page 4).
Earlier this month prisons minister Rory Stewart announced a package of measures to address ‘acute problems’ of violence, drug use and security in ten prisons – not including Birmingham. He later told BBC News that he would quit if he failed to reduce the levels of drug use and violence within 12 months.
Full inspection of: HMP Birmingham 30 July – 9 August 2018 here