On Friday 16 December 2016, the public were made aware of a riot at HMP Birmingham which is believed to have involved up to 600 prisoners. Authorities regained control of the prison after more than 12 hours of rioting described as the worst since the Strangeways jail riot 26 years ago.
HMP Birmingham is a Category B prison housing up to 1450 prisoners within its walls. Rodger Lawrence, chairman of the Birmingham prison Independent Monitoring Board, said his members had not seen anything of concern during a visit earlier this week, but said the riot “didn’t come as a complete shock” as there had been “a build up of frustration” over prison conditions. It s believed it is these poor conditions that lead to the unrest on Friday.
Although the actions of those inmates involved is in itself disturbing, this incident is another wake up call to the Government that the prisons in England and Wales are in a crisis and not only are prison staff having to cope with the day to day challenges of safely running prisons, the frustration has now caused wide scale upset across one of many establishments. The strain of managing the record 85,583 population in an overcrowded prison system exhibited itself in a concerning way on Friday. Phil Wheatley, the former head of the prison service in England and Wales firmly blamed the Government for a mixture of staffing cuts and wild swings in policy that have brought the custodial system to a “state of operational disaster”.
The independent monitoring board report raised concerns in October about the “increasingly difficult behaviour of individual prisoners coupled with staffing shortages” and called for an urgent solution to the problem of dealing with the new psychoactive substances. Some of the grievances frequently aired by prisoners included inadequate staff numbers, easy access to illicit substances, poor healthcare and nutrition. This shortage of care has been reflected within the Ministry of Justice annual deaths in prison statistics which has shown an increase in prison deaths since 2005. It is worrying to see that as well as a steady increase of overcrowding within prisons, coupled with the lack of resources also corresponds with the increase in self inflicted deaths in prison.
If the Government does not address this crisis it will endanger the lives of others who are within the system.