Troubled jail makes progress to stop ‘overt’ drug use, inspectors find
A review of standards at Birmingham’s Winson Green prison has questioned an “inexplicable” failure to secure funding for scanners to prevent drugs being smuggled into the jail.
A progress report published on Tuesday, following a three-day inspectors’ visit to HMP Birmingham last month, said it had made reasonable progress in tackling violence, drug use and squalor identified a year ago.
The summer 2018 inspection, which came two years after a major outbreak of rioting, noted unchallenged drug use, with half of inmates claiming it was easy to source illicit drugs amid an “almost universal” smell of cannabis.
Addressing efforts to combat the problems at the jail, the latest report noted a new and much improved drug and alcohol strategy.
Although a dedicated “suspicion-based” search team had been formed, alongside the deployment of drug detection dogs, funding applications for body and mail scanning equipment had been unsuccessful.
In the summary of the latest report, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, said: “We no longer observed overt drug use on the wings.
“Although fewer than at our full inspection, one in four prisoners were testing positive for drugs and I found it inexplicable that the prison had been unable to secure funding for equipment such as a body scanner to help them stop drugs entering the prison.”
The review, conducted from May 7-9, stated: “The need for electronic body scanners to identify contraband concealed by prisoners on entry to the prison and additional mail scanning equipment to detect letters impregnated with illegal substances had been identified.
“However, to date the prison’s bids for funding for this equipment had been unsuccessful.”
The newly-published report found that relationships between staff and prisoners had improved, and the prison, which was much cleaner, felt more ordered and controlled.
Mr Clarke said: “It is only right that I recognise the scale of the task to improve the treatment and conditions for prisoners at Birmingham. It is huge.
“There is no doubt that the prison faces a long journey of recovery.
“It is very clear that the governor, through his vision and very visible leadership, has energised the staff and undoubted pride and optimism are emerging around the prison.
“I think that optimism is well founded.
“Birmingham has already made some tangible improvements and has the capacity for further change and improvement if it retains strong leadership and if those responsible for Birmingham at national and regional level provide it with the support necessary to sustain what has begun.”
Director general of prisons Phil Copple said: “The scale of the challenge at Birmingham meant the Prison Service needed to step in last year so the new governor and his team deserve tremendous credit for the progress made since then.
“The improvements required take time but I’m pleased inspectors found violence and drug use have reduced while living conditions and order in the prison have improved.”
The category B prison has accommodated up to 1,500 men but held 977 inmates during the progress report, as three of its wings have been closed.
The full inspection of HMP Birmingham conducted in August 2018 found drug-taking at the then privately-run jail was barely concealed and individual prisoners could behave badly with near impunity.
The Government announced in April this year that it intends to place the prison under permanent public sector control, and end the contract with G4S next month.