Issues in UK prisons could last months says Justice Secretary

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

Liz Truss addressed MPs on last week's riot at HMP Birmingham, where hundreds of inmates were rioting in the jail over more than 12 hours.

She said levels of violence in prisons are too high, but said "swift action" was being taken to deal with drugs, drones and phones in prisons.

"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.

A full investigation has been ordered into the incident at the privately-run Birmingham prison as the damage is being assessed.

The Justice Secretary said the disturbance began when 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 and it was at that point staff withdrew for their own safety. Prisoners then gained control of P wing.

Specialist teams from G4S the security company that runs the prison were dispatched to the jail while inmates gained access to two more wings at 1.30pm, prompting a call for further reinforcements.

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

The riot at Birmingham prison is the third prison disturbance in less than two months after problems 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 across many establishments.

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.

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.

Rising levels of assaults and self-harm in prisons have triggered fears of a safety crisis.

Last month thousands of officers walked-out over claims the prison 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.