The Ministry of Justice has been forced to seize control of a Birmingham prison from the private contractor G4S amid concerns over safety.
HMP Birmingham has seen a “dramatic deterioration” in standards over the past year, according to the prisons inspectorate. This is despite an extended period where HM Prison and Probation Service has worked with G4S, the operator, to try to drive up standards.
Ministers have stepped in to take over the running of the facility after the latest inspection found widespread drink and drug use and violence as well as blood, vomit and cockroaches throughout the corridors.
The government will now urgently remove the governor and 300 prisoners as it attempts to restore order and improve conditions.
HMPPS will take immediate steps to put place “one of the prison service’s best governors” to lead the prison, to allocate an extra 30 experienced prison officers to HMP Birmingham, and to reduce the prison’s capacity by 300 places while improvement action is underway.
The MoJ’s executive agency will run the prison for an initial six-month period, but the department said it would not be re-privatised until ministers are convinced sufficient progress has been made.
Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons, called for an immediate inquiry ahead of the publication of a damning report.
In a letter to the justice secretary David Gauke, Clarke said there was an “urgent and pressing need to address the squalor, violence, prevalence of drugs and looming lack of control”.
He added that the forthcoming report contained “some of the most disturbing evidence that inspectors ... have seen in any prison.”
“There has clearly been an abject failure of contract management and delivery,” he said.
“The inertia that seems to have gripped both those monitoring the contract and delivering it on the ground has led to one of Britain’s leading jails slipping into a state of crisis.”
The prisons minister, Rory Stewart, said: “It has become clear that drastic action is required to bring about the improvements we require.
“This ‘step in’ means that we can provide additional resources to the prison while insulating the taxpayer from the inevitable cost this entails.
“We have good, privately-run prisons across the country and while Birmingham faces its own particular set of challenges, I am absolutely clear that it must start to live up to the standards seen elsewhere.”
The Prison Governor’s Association – which represents senior operational managers in the National Offender Management Service, senior civil servants with a background in operational prison management, and governors and deputy governors in public and private prisons – said HMP Birmingham had for many years “been one of the most challenging in the system irrelevant of it being run by the private or public sector”.
The PGA said adequate resources and investment must be made available to the prison if it is to achieve long term change.