Violence has increased 'substantially' at HMP Birmingham

The first official report since HMP Birmingham was hit by a riot has found the "violence had increased substantially" since the last inspection.

The report 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" and one in seven said they were becoming addicted to drugs while in the prison.

G4S, the company 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.

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".

Hundreds of offenders were transferred from HMP Birmingham following the riot.. Credit: 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.

Rioting at the Winson Green jail was some of the worst in years at a UK prison.

Mr Clarke 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.

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 has tabled four chief recommendations, 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.

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

Credit: Richard Vernalls/PA Wire/PA Images

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".

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."

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.

Mr Clarke cautioned against reading anything into the causes of the damaging riots from his latest report, and said "to attempt to use it in that way would be a mistake".

He added: "We saw many positive interactions between staff and prisoners and, in general, relationships were respectful."

The jail had what G4S called a "complex" mix of inmates, some as old as 90, and a high turnover with 500 new arrivals every month and an average stay of six weeks.

The director for HMP Birmingham, Richard Stedman said: "Today's report is a fair assessment of the very real challenges we face at HMP Birmingham.

"Like many other local city-centre prisons, we are a target for organised crime gangs who try to smuggle drugs into our facility.

Mr Stedman added: "We are resolute in our determination to move on, make progress and not be defined by December's disorder and this week the prison returns to its full operational capacity."