Despite the recent disingenuous announcement regarding prison officer numbers, there is still a massive shortfall brought about by Chris Grayling and there is no sign of the prison death rate reducing as this from the Guardian makes clear:-
Five inmates die in seven weeks at HMP Birmingham run by G4S
Five inmates have died in the space of seven weeks at Birmingham’s outsourced prison, the latest of them allegedly killing himself in a week in which the Prison Officers Association and the Howard League for Penal Reform have warned of a prison system in crisis. Marcus McGuire, 35, was found dead in his cell on HMP Birmingham’s D-wing at about 9am on Tuesday, the Birmingham Mail reported.
The prison, run by G4S, is reportedly facing two improvement orders from the Ministry of Justice, addressing its levels of violence, hygiene standards and inmate care and treatment, including reducing self-harm. The prison’s director, Rob Kellett, said investigations into the deaths were under way and declined to comment on the specific cases except to say they were unrelated.
While it has the highest number of deaths in absolute terms, HMP Birmingham is one of the country’s biggest prisons. It does not appear to have been the scene of an unusual spate of self-inflicted deaths, such as happened last year at HMP Nottingham or HMP Wood Hill.
On Thursday, POA warned of a “crisis that has been created in the prison service”, citing a big fall in the number of officers since 2010 and soaring rates of self-harm, assaults and hospital attendances by inmates.
Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said figures released on Thursday showing a record high number of assaults in prisons were a “symptom of a prison system in crisis”. Four inmates were found dead at HMP Birmingham in March. John Delahaye was found dead in his cell on 5 March in a suspected suicide, days before he was due to stand trial for allegedly stabbing churchgoers in Aston, Birmingham.
Ricardo Holgate, 35, a convicted rapist, was found dead on 26 March, reportedly from a suspected overdose of a synthetic cannabinoid. Andrew Carr, 23, was found dead on 29 or 30 March after reportedly taking drugs smuggled via the toilet into his cell in the prison’s segregation unit, where there is supposed to be heightened security. Neil Black, 34, died on 31 March, apparently from natural causes.
Inquest, a charity that investigates deaths in custody, reported a further death at Birmingham earlier in the year, bringing the total so far in 2018 to six. It is understood the first death was from natural causes. Birmingham has the highest number of deaths of any prison in the year to date, followed by Manchester and Durham with four each and Lindholme with three, according to research by Inquest.
Kellett said: “Every death in custody is a tragedy and is always thoroughly investigated by the prisons and probation ombudsman. While the recent deaths at HMP Birmingham are believed to be unrelated events, investigations are ongoing and it would not be appropriate to comment further. We are absolutely committed to providing a good standard of accommodation and purposeful activity, and the safety of our staff, partners and those in our custody is our first priority. Where room for improvement is identified we work closely with the Ministry of Justice to agree appropriate steps.”
The MoJ improvement notices were issued in March, before the recent spate of deaths. A Prison Service spokesperson said: “We are clear that prisons should be places of safety and reform, and are working closely with G4S to improve conditions for prisoners at HMP Birmingham.”
On Thursday Steve Gillan, general secretary of the POA, sent an open letter to David Gauke, the justice secretary, accusing him of misleading the public by hailing the recruitment of 2,500 new prison officers. The letter pointed out that even with the latest increase, the Prison Service remained 3,789 officers down since 2010. “So the increase since October 2016 does not reflect the destruction to the service caused by austerity measures,” he wrote.
Gillan referred to safety in custody data, published by the MoJ the same day, that showed incidents of self-harm had increased by 11.2% in the year to December 2017, compared with the previous 12 months, from 40,160 to 44,651, and by 65.6% since 2010. Assault incidents had more than doubled in the past eight years and serious assaults had nearly trebled in the same period, the letter pointed out.
“These latest figures are nothing short of a scandal and ministers and employers must take responsibility instead of burying their heads in the sand and pretending a recruitment campaign is going to resolve this clear crisis that has been created by poor policy decisions,” Gillan said.
Kellett said every death in custody was a tragedy, adding: “While the recent deaths at HMP Birmingham are believed to be unrelated events, investigations are ongoing and it would not be appropriate to comment further.”
Kellett, who took charge of the prison in February, praised the work of the staff and added that they “work tirelessly to detect, intercept and confiscate contraband.”
“Since taking charge of HMP Birmingham in February, I have seen at firsthand the great job that our dedicated staff and partners do every day in challenging circumstances,” he said. “The safety of our staff, partners and those in our custody is our first priority. Where room for improvement is identified we work closely with the Ministry of Justice to agree appropriate steps.”