Prison watchdog flags up ‘not fit for purpose’ cells at crisis-hit jail

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A prisoner at one of Britain’s largest jails had to ask someone on the outside to alert staff after he was placed in a cell without a working toilet, a watchdog has disclosed.

Monitors also raised concerns that phone calls into crisis-hit HMP Birmingham were not always answered.

In one instance, the father of an inmate was unable to get a message to his son informing him of his mother’s death for two days.

HMP Birmingham came under scrutiny earlier this year when Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke raised the alarm over “appalling” squalor and violence at the establishment.

As his findings were revealed in August, the Ministry of Justice confirmed it had taken over running of the jail from G4S for at least six months.

In a new report, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for the prison said it had observed instances of men being placed in cells that are not fit for purpose.

The report said: “A man, placed in a cell without a working toilet, had to arrange for a person outside the prison to phone the duty director to get this resolved.”

The board said it was concerned that telephone calls from outside the prison are not always answered.

“In one instance the father of a prisoner was unable, for two days, to get a message via the phone line informing the prisoner of his mother’s death,” the report said.

“In another case, calls were made about concerns for the safety of a vulnerable prisoner, who was subsequently seriously assaulted.”

The report covering the 12 months to the end of June found bullying, debt, drugs and gang-related issues continued to be the main causes of violence in the prison.

Security activity had increased significantly, with mobile phone finds in the first half of 2018 exceeding the number for the whole of last year.

Despite it being a non-smoking prison, men were observed smoking in cells and on landings, according to the report.

It also warned that rats and cockroaches were in evidence in many areas of the jail.

The board said the prison is “considered by many to be the most violent and challenging in the country” but concluded that it is turning a corner and showing early signs of improvement in conditions for prisoners and staff.

Roger Swindells, chairman of the IMB, said: “We have monitored a prison in crisis for the last 18 months and have described many incidents that have caused great concern.

“Since August we have seen a ‘step in’ by HMPPS (Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service) to take over the running of the prison and are now seeing early signals that outcomes for prisoners are improving in terms of cleanliness, safety, security activity and the provision of an acceptable daily regime.”

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said: “We took decisive action at HMP Birmingham, stepping in to strengthen the management, bringing in additional staff and reducing the population, and I’m pleased the IMB recognises that we are making progress.”

Mr Stewart said the prison’s new governor and his staff are “working tirelessly to drive up standards and urgent action continues to improve safety and living conditions”, adding: “We will keep a close eye on progress to ensure Birmingham becomes a place of stability and reform.”

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