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  1. ITV Report

Everything you need to know about the emergency takeover of HMP Birmingham

Privately-run HMP Birmingham is being taken over by the Government after ministers concluded "drastic action" was needed to address failings at the jail.

It comes as the tide has been turning away from contracting out services to private companies.

At a local level, three quarters of councils now say they have, or will, bring them back under their own control.

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand

Details of the intervention emerged as the Chief Inspector of Prisons published a highly critical assessment of the establishment, which has been managed by G4S.

  • What were the problems?

Both G4S and the Government have both been criticised for allowing the situation at Birmingham to get to this point.

An unannounced inspection that concluded earlier this month found that the jail had seriously deteriorated in the past 18 months.

Staff were found asleep or locked in offices, levels of violence were the highest for any local jail in the country and substance use was prevalent.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, told ITV News: "The conditions at Birmingham were amongst the worst we've seen anywhere.

"But it wasn't just the fact of the conditions, the squalor, the dirt, the filth, it was the fact the prison seemed to be on a path which was taking it out of control.

"Drugs were blatantly trafficked and used on the wings, the staff for some reason seemed to be tolerating this, violence was extraordinarily high and the sense was there was no real plan to rescue what was happening and to stop it.

"I think the most worrying thing about the inspection at Birmingham was the the prison seemed to be moving in the direction where control of the jail was possibly going to be lost, staff weren't intervening in misbehaviour - they didn't seem confident or competent to control the behaviour prisoners and prisoners were basically, in some cases, were doing exactly as they wanted."

  • What has the reaction to the report been?

After viewing the report, officials determined that without additional support, the prison will not be able to turn itself around.

As a result, Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke triggered an "urgent notification" process to demand action from ministers.

There were riots at HMP Birmingham in 2016. Credit: PA

Justice Secretary David Gauke and the Prisons Minister Rory Stewart recently visited the prison and concluded that "stepping in" is the best way to make an immediate impact and begin the necessary improvements.

Mr Stewart said: "What we have seen at Birmingham is unacceptable and 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."

  • So what happens now?

From Monday, control of HMP Birmingham will be taken over by HM Prison and Probation Service in accordance with the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and as part of the contract with G4S.

HMPPS will run the jail for an initial six-month period, but the Ministry of Justice said this may be extended and the prison will not be handed back until ministers are satisfied that sufficient progress has been made.

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The Ministry said it was putting in place one of the service's best governors to lead the prison, an initial 30 extra officers are to be deployed to bolster staffing levels, and the jail's capacity is being reduced by 300 places.

Officials emphasised that there would be no additional cost to the taxpayer.

  • Hasn't there been trouble at HMP Birmingham before?

The prison was the scene of a major riot in December 2016 that was believed to have caused more than £2 million-worth of damage.

A report in June 2017 highlighted fighting on wings caused by easy access to drugs, with inmates concerned about high levels of violence.

Three months later staff were involved in a seven-hour stand-off with inmates after they refused to return to their cells.

  • Who is held at HMP Birmingham?

The prison for adult male inmates had a population of 1,269 at the end of July. Built in 1849, the remand prison holds inmates while they await trial for alleged offences.

On average, inmates spend around six weeks there before being transferred to other jails.

HMP Birmingham is one of more than a dozen privately-run prisons in the UK Credit: PA
  • What is G4S?

Global security giant G4S holds contracts to provide services across the UK justice system. It is the largest secure outsourcing company in the country.

G4S became the first private company to take over a public prison in the UK when it assumed control of HMP Birmingham in 2011.

The publicly-traded company reported £139 million in pre-tax profits in the first six months of 2018, with revenue of £3.67 billion.

  • What has G4S said?

Jerry Petherick, managing director of G4S Custody & Detention Services, said HMP Birmingham faced “exceptional challenges” including “increasingly high levels of prisoner violence towards staff and fellow prisoners”.

The company said it welcomed the Government’s intervention and “the opportunity to work with the Ministry of Justice to urgently address the issues faced at the prison”.

  • Are there many private jails in the UK?

Excluding HMP Birmingham there are 13 “contracted-out” prisons in the UK. Private prisons were introduced in the 1990s.

  • Who is to blame?

Both G4S and the Government have both been criticised for allowing the situation at Birmingham to get to this point.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke told ITV News: "The conditions are Birmingham were amongst the worst we've seen anywhere.

"But it wasn't just the fact of the conditions, the squalor, the dirt, the filth, it was the fact the prison seemed to be on a path which was taking it out of control.

"Drugs were blatantly trafficked and used on the wings, the staff for some reason seemed to be tolerating this, violence was extraordinarily high and the sense was there was no real plan to rescue what was happening and to stop it.

"I think the most worrying thing about the inspection at Birmingham was the the prison seemed to be moving in the direction where control of the jail was possibly going to be lost, staff weren't intervening in misbehaviour - they didn't seem confident or competent to control the behaviour prisoners and prisoners were basically, in some cases, were doing exactly as they wanted.