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Sir David Ramsbotham, Chief Inspector of Prisons
"I said exactly the same things only 2 years before and when we went back in... absolutely nothing appeared to have happened"
 real 28k

The BBC's Caroline Thomsett
"This report is about as bad as it could get"
 real 56k

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"We weren't even allowed to film the worst"
 real 56k

Martin Narey, Head of the Prison Service
"We need to do things to put it right very quickly"
 real 28k

Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 18:25 GMT
Prisons inspector demands action
Winson Green in Birmingham
Winson Green has been described as a "hell hole"
The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, who has published a damning report into Birmingham's Winson Green jail, is demanding to know why Home Secretary Jack Straw and the Prison Service have failed to act.

Answering questions in a special forum organised by BBC News Online, Sir David said he wanted to know why Mr Straw and the head of the Prison Service, Martin Narey, had dragged their feet.

Click here to watch the Forum with Sir David

In his report Sir David said the treatment of inmates at the jail has deteriorated since he last inspected it in 1998; at that time the prison was described as "appalling".

He said about 11% of inmates claimed to have been assaulted by officers and one mentally-disturbed prisoner had been denied a wash or change of clothes for weeks because staff thought he was faking his illness.


Virtually everything about this long, detailed and appalling report is depressing and disturbing

Sir David Ramsbotham

Sir David said the Prison Service's response to the damning inspection in 1998 had been to introduce budget cuts of 860,000.

During the forum Sir David said of Mr Narey: "If he knew Winson Green was appalling in 1998 why haven't they done anything about it?"

But he said the buck ultimately stopped at Mr Straw who was the person he reports to.

Sir David denied questions by one e-mailer that he was part of a "conspiracy to privatise" the prison service.

He said: "I'm not anxious to privatise any more prisons. I believe that if the state is sentencing people, then it should be looking after them in prison."

Sir David Ramsbotham
Sir David says his first report was ignored
But he said the public sector could learn from the private sector and added: "They are showing how the job can be done differently, and indeed better."

Sir David praised Mr Narey for putting "tsars" in charge of special parts of the prison service, such as the high security prisons, and women's jails.

Trapped in the past

He said it was about time someone in the Prison Service was made directly responsible for local prisons like Winson Green, which was built in 1850 and serves Birmingham, Coventry and a number of town in the West Midlands.

On average, a third of its inmates are on remand awaiting trial.

Winson Green's staff culture was trapped in the past and a lack of resources meant it would be very difficult for any governor to improve the jail, said the report.

Prison Service director-general Martin Narey conceded that the prison was an "appalling place" which required desperate improvement but said some of his views differed from Sir David's.

"David would like me to have one person in charge of all local prisons," he said.

"That would be an impossible task - there are 36 of them.

"He thinks I should have one person in charge of lifers and another in charge of foreign national prisoners. It would mean that the governor of Birmingham would have three or four bosses. It would be absolute chaos."

Sir David ordered Prison Service headquarters to draw up an action plan within three months and said he would carry out another inspection in September and every year after that until further notice.

Winson Green was one of a number of failing prisons controversially described as "hell holes" by Mr Narey in a speech last month.

Making improvements

On Wednesday he said the prison would soon show the kind of improvements achieved at other failing prisons like Wandsworth and Wormwood Scrubs after a change in management.

He said he expected Winson Green to follow the example set by HMP Leeds, also subject of a chief inspector's report on Thursday.

A new health centre would be opened at the prison next year, while extra money from the Prison Service would improve education facilities and more psychiatric nurses would be provided by the NHS, he said.

Sir David found the Leeds prison vastly improved, describing it as a "model local prison" despite being the most overcrowded in the country.

The latest inspection of Birmingham, carried out last July, makes 300 recommendations for action - the highest ever - after it found:

  • HMP Birmingham, known as Winson Green, is the second most overcrowded prison in England and Wales, operating near its maximum of 1,060 when it should normally hold just 734

  • It has one of the worst regimes in England and Wales, with prisoners let out of their cells on "association" for just five hours a week

  • Nurses in the health care centre could only go on free training courses because of cash shortages and nursing cover was "grossly inadequate"

  • Conditions inside some cells were "filthy" with soiled mattresses and unemptied buckets

  • One prisoner on a normal wing had not washed or changed his clothes for weeks. The report concludes he was among a number of inmates with a serious mental illness which had gone undiagnosed

  • In the nursing wards, conditions were "appalling" and cells were only furnished with a concrete plinth for a bed

  • A principal prison officer had a framed cartoon on his office wall which featured racist comments including "Join the National Front"

  • Cell call bells had been tampered with to make them quieter.

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    See also:

    15 Mar 01 | UK
    England's failing prisons
    18 Oct 00 | UK Politics
    Prison chief's horror over raid
    31 Jan 00 | UK Politics
    Failing prison bosses face sack
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