Birmingham Prison crisis: a catastrophe of cuts and privatisation
Siobhán Friel, Birmingham South East Socialist Party
Birmingham Prison has become the latest in a long line of catastrophic failures of privatisation, as the government is forced to step in and take over management from notorious private contractor G4S.
A recent inspection found HMP Birmingham inadequately staffed and very unsafe, rife with drugs and increasingly violent. G4S took over in 2011, and incidents of violence at the prison have risen fivefold since 2012.
The next day, Tory prisons minister Rory Stewart admitted on LBC radio that up to 20 prisons are in similar states of collapse!
17 out of 123 prisons across England and Wales are privately run. Five of these are run by G4S – which proudly boasts on its website that it offers “value for money” in the criminal justice system.
The chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, said HMP Birmingham was “the worst I’ve seen anywhere.” The details included in his report are stomach-churning. Vomit, blood and rat droppings.
It is mind-blowing that this is what it takes to make the government take action. Birmingham Prison experienced rioting in 2016. But instead of taking steps to improve safety, G4S and the Tories have allowed conditions to get even worse.
But what is even more shocking is the government’s shameless attempt to squirm out of accepting that austerity and privatisation caused the fiasco.
The prisons inspector rightly says there is “a clear correlation between the lack of resources and the increase in violence.” But the prisons minister admits only that perhaps a few too many staff – 4,500 net – were cut, while claiming the crisis is “largely driven by these new psychoactive substances like spice.”
G4S and the government are keen to stress the firm has only failed one of its five prison contracts. But that’s not the whole story either.
Last year an Ofsted inspection into Oakhill Youth Prison – run by G4S – found it “unsafe.” And G4S gave up management of Medway Secure Training Centre in 2016, after BBC’s Panorama exposed violence against teenage prisoners.
There is clear and repeated evidence of the abject failure of cuts and privatisation – not just in prisons, but railways, the NHS, schools, and across the board.
Government intervention at HMP Birmingham is temporary and not good enough. At the time of writing, G4S has not even had its contract ended. Nor have the Tories ruled out farming out more prisons to private interests – in fact, they continue to defend privatisation in the face of ever more damning evidence.
The prison and probation services must be fully renationalised with all staff cuts reversed, and fully funded to ensure the safety of all prisoners and workers. A socialist justice system would work for protection and rehabilitation, not private profit.
‘The resources aren’t there’
The Socialist spoke to Joe Simpson, deputy general secretary of the POA, the trade union for prison, correctional and secure psychiatric workers.
“The POA fought these job cuts – and warned of the consequences. Cost-cutting by austerity-driven governments and profit-driven contractors has devastated prison officers’ numbers, time and resources.
“‘Personal officer’ schemes which built relationships with inmates to deal with drug and violence problems have gone. Often-vulnerable people are confined to cells for unacceptable lengths of time.
“Many would be better served in secure hospitals or non-custodial rehabilitation anyway, but the resources aren’t there.
“Yet again, prison workers are bearing the brunt of these dangerous, failed policies. Only reversing the cuts and outsourcing can start to solve the problem.”