Birmingham Prison has been taken over by the Ministry of Justice after inspectors said it had collapsed into a “state of crisis”.
The change will see the government take control of the jail from G4S for an initial six-month period and comes after an “extended period” where HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) had attempted to work with the private operator to improve conditions but failed.
In a letter to Justice Secretary David Gauke, Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said there had been a “dramatic deterioration” in conditions at HMP Birmingham following a riot in 2016, with a recent inspection finding parts of the prison filthy, with blood, vomit and rat droppings on the floor. He went on to describe an institutional lack of order within the prison walls, with those perpetrating violence able to act with “near impunity” while guards locked themselves in their offices.
In a statement, the government said: “It is clear…that without additional support the prison will not be able to make sufficient progress on these pressing issues which have again been highlighted following the recent HMIP inspection. G4S accept that this is the case.”
Prisons Minister Rory Stewart added: “What we have seen at Birmingham is unacceptable and it has become clear that drastic action is required to bring about the improvements we require.”
As part of its effort to alleviate the critical situation at the prison, the Ministry of Justice will immediately allocate 30 extra prison officers and reduce the prison’s capacity by 300 places.
The government takeover is believed to be the first since the operation of some prisons were first outsourced to private companies in 1992.
G4S was awarded a 15-year contract to operate the prison in 2011, and currently operates four other prisons in the UK. A further nine prisons are run by private firms Sodexo and Serco.
HMP Birmingham may be the most critical, but a number of prisons across the UK are “struggling to maintain even basic standards of safety and decency” according to Mr Clarke. In the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons’ annual report for 2017-18 published in July, he described a situation where a number of prisons have “failed to tackle the basic problems of violence, drugs and disgraceful living conditions that have beset so many jails in recent years. I have seen instances where both staff and prisoners alike seem to have become inured to conditions that should not be accepted in 21st century Britain.”
Labour Shadow Justice Minister Imran Hussain MP criticised the idea of prison privatisation, saying: “Yet more damning evidence of the failure of private sector involvement in our justice system. It’s clear that private companies should have no place in running our prisons and there must be an end to plans for more private prisons.”