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Privately-Run British Prison in Shambles, Ministry of Justice Takes Control

by Scott Grammer

On August 13, 2018, Great Britain’s HMP Birmingham, operated by G4S (previously Group 4 Securicor), a private security company, had to be taken over on an emergency basis by the Ministry of Justice. An inspection of the prison found that prisoners were drinking, using drugs and committing acts of violence at will, and that the facility was crawling with roaches amid blood and vomit. The government took control from G4S, which had been awarded a 15-year contract to run the prison in 2011.

Britain’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, said the facility had experienced “dramatic deterioration” since the previous year’s inspection, and that the government should launch an investigation into conditions at HMP Birmingham, formerly known as Winson Green, the most violent prison in England.

In December 2016, HMP Birmingham was the site of a 12-hour riot involving as many as 600 of its 1,450 prisoners. Staff at the facility locked themselves into secure areas to avoid being assaulted; during an inspection, there was an arson attack on a staff car park that was supposed to be secure. Clarke said there had been an “abject failure” by the private prison operator.

Rory Stewart, Minister for Prisons, added, “It has become clear that drastic action is required.... This ‘step in’ means that we can provide additional resources to the prison while insulating the taxpayer from the inevitable cost this entails.” He told the BBC, “This is partly the responsibility of me, as prisons minister, of the government, and of G4S, which is why we have taken this unprecedented step of stepping in, taking control of the prison.” 

He described the situation as being “commercially sensitive.” Richard Bugon, shadow justice secretary, said the problems at HMP Birmingham “should be a nail in the coffin for the flawed idea of prison privatization.” 



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