Better living accommodation, reduced violence, confident staff and strong leadership are all indicators of the progress made at Birmingham prison over the last two years since 2018 when the prison was judged by inspectors to be in urgent need of improvement.
In its annual report for 2019-20, the Birmingham IMB notes that:
- Major investment in refurbishing showers, installing CCTV on wings and telephones in all cells, and most recently the addition of an X-ray body scanner have improved living conditions, helping reduce violence, and detect drugs.
- Prison management responded quickly and decisively to the COVID situation. Strict hygiene measures, social distancing and the effective quarantining of all new arrivals and men who appear symptomatic are now routine. There have only been three confirmed cases of COVID 19 among the prisoner population of nearly 1000 men, all at the start of the epidemic.
- Family visits resumed at the end of July with tight COVID safety measures in place. The prison also introduced a system of virtual visits using laptops. As technical difficulties are ironed out this appears to be gaining popularity with prisoners and their families.
Birmingham Chair, Jane Perera, said: “there is no doubt that Birmingham prison has become a safer, cleaner, better environment than in recent years.
Plans for future refurbishment of some closed wings include single cells which were previously double cell occupancy. This should ensure that the prison does not return to the overcrowding of the past.
Despite the severity of the COVID restrictions the majority of prisoners have taken a responsible approach to the lockdown with comments like “We understand that this is to keep us safe”. Staff-prisoner relationships have been good as the lockdown has provided wing staff with more time to talk to prisoners and address issues. It has to be acknowledged that some men feel safer during lockdown because they are not exposed to bullying or debt issues. On the other hand, it has been challenging, especially for men with mental health problems but the prison has responded with individual support and group forums to help those most in need.
We look forward to when the prison can further reduce the restrictions of the COVID lockdown so that normal activities and meaningful rehabilitation programmes can start again.”