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Drug-fuelled violence leaves inmates feeling unsafe at riot-hit jail

Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke said his findings must not be used to diagnose the cause of the December 2016 riots.

A riot-hit jail is gripped by drug-fuelled violence with many inmates feeling “unsafe” behind bars, an inspection has found.

The first official report since HMP Birmingham was rocked by disorder has concluded there is too much fighting on wings, often triggered by easy access to “problematic” new psychoactive substances (NPS).

Half of the prisoners surveyed also told inspectors it was “easy to get drugs”, with one in seven said they were getting hooked on drugs while in the jail.

The inspection also found the use of mobile phones and drones to arrange and deliver contraband, like the highly addictive Spice, over the Victorian jail’s high walls was also “a significant threat”.

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(Joe Giddens/PA)

However, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke said his findings must not be used to diagnose the cause of the December 2016 riots.

G4S, which runs the prison, called the report “a fair assessment of the very real challenges” it faced, which had also highlighted staff and managers’ determination “to move on” and improve.

Rioting at the Winson Green jail was some of the worst in years at a UK prison. Four wings were still out of action for repairs when inspectors arrived in mid-February, with 500 inmates transferred to other sites, leaving a then population of just under 1,000.

Mr Clarke said the reasons for his unannounced inspection was to make sure the jail was still safe and secure – and to establish a baseline for improvement.

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Riot police outside HMP Birmingham following a disturbance in December (Joe Giddens/PA)

He has tabled four chief recommendations for the governor, including a “a clear strategy” to reduce violence.

G4S was also told to improve staff-prisoner relationships and inmates’ behaviour, provide “a decent regime” of learning and work, and encourage as many prisoners as possible to take up activities.

Mr Clarke has also called for an “integrated approach” to reduce the supply and demand of drugs.

The inspection, which asked prisoners what they thought, found that “high” levels of violence and drugs were two key concerns for those behind bars.

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Officers leaves HMP Birmingham after a disturbance (Joe Giddens/PA)

A survey of the population found 59% of prisoners “felt unsafe at some time during their stay in Birmingham and over a third felt unsafe at the time of inspection”.

Mr Clarke also found the riots “had a profound effect upon many members of staff” and there was “still a palpable sense of shock at the suddenness and ferocity of what had happened”.

However, he said prison bosses were “committed” to tackling the problems and “did not want to be defined” by the disorder.

Turning to the problems, Mr Clarke added: “We found the high level of drug availability, often leading to debt, was one of the primary triggers of violence.”

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G4S, which runs the prison, called the report "a fair assessment of the very real challenges" it faced (Joe Giddens/PA)

Routine testing, cell finds and medical incidents had showed “that new psychoactive substances (NPS) had become problematic.”

“The use of Spice was a particular issue,” it added.

Mr Clarke said: “The use of mobile phones and drones to arrange and deliver drugs was identified as a significant threat and intelligence-gathering had identified several hotspots and weak areas”

The report also concluded “violence had increased substantially since our previous inspection”, with 187 assaults recorded on staff and 218 attacks on prisoners between June and November last year.

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