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Problems in UK prisons could last for months, Truss warns

The problems gripping the country's prisons could last for months, the Justice Secretary has warned.

Liz Truss addressed MPs on last week's riot at HMP Birmingham, which saw hundreds of inmates wreak havoc in the jail over more than 12 hours of chaos.

She revealed that 380 inmates have been moved out of the jail, while damage on the wings is being assessed.

Daily meetings are being held with senior officials to monitor prisons for risk factors that might indicate potential violence and unrest.

Ms Truss said levels of violence in prisons are too high, but insisted ministers are taking "swift action" to deal with drugs, drones and phones.

"The issues in our prisons are long-standing and they are not going to be completely solved in weeks or even months," Ms Truss warned. "We are working to ensure our prisons are stable while we deliver our reforms.

"The next few months will be difficult but I am confident we can turn this situation around."

A full investigation has been ordered into the incident at Birmingham, a Category B facility run by private firm G4S.

Setting out the current understanding of the disturbance, the Justice Secretary said six prisoners in the jail's N-wing climbed onto netting at 9.15 on Friday morning.

"When staff intervened, one of them had their key snatched," she said. "At that point staff withdrew for their own safety. Prisoners then gained control of P wing."

Specialist teams were dispatched to the jail while inmates gained access to two more wings at 1.30pm, sparking a call for further reinforcements.

At 8.35pm, ten Tornado teams of highly trained officers swept through the jail and shortly after 10pm, they had secured all four wings.

The Birmingham episode was the third major disturbance in less than two months following trouble at Bedford and Lewes prisons.

John Thornhill, president of the National Council of Independent Monitoring Boards, said the disturbance at HMP Birmingham is "yet more evidence" of concerns about rising levels of violence.

He said IMBs - which provide a monitoring presence in every prison in England and Wales - have regularly questioned staffing levels and regimes across many establishments in recent years.

"IMBs are perturbed that their dedication to the monitoring role on a weekly basis is frustrated by a failure to respond to the issues raised at a national level in their annual reports," Mr Thornhill said.

He warned that low staffing levels mean prisoners are denied access to a range of facilities.

"They become frustrated, tension and violence increase and become more widespread," Mr Thornhill said. "The result, as we have seen in recent weeks, is an increase in riots that damage the system and individuals.

"The impact of this unrestrained violence is that a large number of prisoners have to be transferred to other prisons that are already stretched with their own problems and staffing issues."

There have been warnings that violence could spread to other facilities amid "simmering tensions"

As well as tensions reported at HMP Hull, it emerged that four inmates barricaded themselves in a cell at HMP Cardiff on Sunday.

The incident was resolved quickly when the prisoners surrendered to staff. No one was injured and the jail is running a normal regime.

Surging levels of assaults and self-harm behind bars have prompted fears of a safety crisis and l ast month thousands of officers walked out amid claims the system was "in meltdown".

Ms Truss has announced a string of measures aimed at tackling the issues including a recruitment drive to add 2,500 staff and mandatory drug testing across the estate.

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