HMP Birmingham - improved, but more to do

HMP Birmingham was making good progress, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection of the local West Midlands jail.

HMP Birmingham is a very large inner city local prison serving the local courts and holding an unusually complex and challenging population. The prison manages a significant throughput of prisoners, with over 100 passing through reception every day. The operational challenges the prison faced in providing a safe and decent environment were not to be underestimated. Inspectors last visited HMP Birmingham in late 2011 when its management had recently transferred from the public sector to G4S following a competitive process. In 2011, inspectors recognised that Birmingham had been a failing prison over many years. At this more recent inspection, the prison, despite undergoing a significant change, was making good progress.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • the prison was calm and ordered, most prisoners generally felt safe and the number of violent incidents was not high;
  • substance misuse services had improved and ensured a range of useful interventions;
  • the number of prisoners being segregated was commendably low, and use of force was low;
  • relationships between staff and prisoners were good and much improved from previous inspections;
  • the quality of formal prisoner consultation, some of it engaging with outside organisations and former prisoners, was a new strength;
  • mental health care support for the relatively high number of prisoners needing it was very good;
  • most prisoners had a reasonable time out of cell and the regime was predictable and rarely curtailed; and
  • resettlement services were effective but would be further enhanced if underpinned by a needs analysis of the population.

Many prisoners experienced a long wait in court cells before being moved to the prison, and this, along with regular overcrowding drafts, meant that they often arrived at reception late in the evening. Given the numbers of prisoners involved, this put first night and induction procedures under great strain with some important action inevitably missed. First night staff were caring and generally did a good job of keeping prisoners safe. Nevertheless, there had tragically been four self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection in 2011, with recent arrival at the prison a common feature. The safety of newly arrived prisoners was a significant risk that required ongoing and heightened attention.

Inspectors were also concerned to find that:

  • despite some good supply reduction work, the prevalence of illicit drugs remained stubbornly high;
  • support for minority groups was mixed – foreign national prisoners were particularly negative about their experiences;
  • leadership and management of leaning and skills provision was improving and the number of education and work places had increased, although there were still not enough; and
  • public protection work required attention.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Overall and in the context of the risks and challenges faced by this prison, this is an encouraging report. Birmingham is well led and we found a much improved staff culture. Improvement is broadly based and a commitment to meaningful consultation with prisoners seems to be a new-found strength of the prison. There is much more to do and Birmingham will always have pressures and risks to face. But the Director and his staff deserve credit for their achievements so far.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service, said:

“I am pleased that the Chief Inspector has highlighted the good progress that is being made at Birmingham and pays tribute to the Director and his staff who have managed a significant change process very well and achieved real improvements in performance.

“We will work with G4S to build on the achievements to date and use the recommendations to drive further improvements at Birmingham.”

Notes to Editors:

1. Read the report.
2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
3. HMP Birmingham holds adult male convicted and unconvicted prisoners. The prison serves the Birmingham court circuit and its primary role is to hold remand and trial prisoners. The prison holds category B and C prisoners as well as a small population of retained category D prisoners.
4. This joint inspection was carried out from 24 February – 7 March 2014.
5. Please contact Barbara Buchanan on 020 3681 2772 if you would like more information or to request an interview with Nick Hardwick.