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Wednesday, January 13, 1999 Published at 08:01 GMT


Jail conditions attacked

Prisons chief Sir David Ramsbotham calls for a rethink into local jails

The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, has called for major improvements to be made to jails that hold remand prisoners and those serving short sentences

BBC's Daniel Boetcher: Damning report
Sir David said in a report that 1,083 prisoners were being held in Birmingham jail, which has a normal capacity of 743.

The report says the health centre in the jail was the "untidiest and dirtiest" inspectors had ever come across and the total absence of a sex offender treatment programme meant sex pests were being released without treatment.

'Time for a rethink'

It is the second highly critical assessment of a British secure institution in two days, after a report published on Tuesday found drug abuse, pornography and poor patient care were rife at the notorious Ashworth high security prison in Merseyside.

Sir David Ramsbotham: They are hugely overcrowded
This latest report, which was based on a short, unannounced inspection last September, said up to 700 of the prisoners were unemployed and spent most of their day locked in their cells.

Clothing and laundering of bedding was inadequate as well as bathing arrangements. Some inmates were only being allowed to wash fully three times a week.

Only 10% received any form of education at the prison, which hit the headlines in 1995 when Cromwell Street killer Fred West hanged himself in his cell, sparking concern at the time about the prison's security.

Sir David said it was now time for the Prisons Service to completely rethink the concept of "local" prisons such as Birmingham.

About 75% of inmates at Birmingham should have been sent to longer-term "training" jails, which can cater better for their needs, he said.

The report did however, praise Birmingham Prison for its work in the early diagnosis of mentally disordered patients.

Better education and resources

Sir David also commended the work of staff and governors, saying he "dreaded to think" what he would be reporting were it not for the good relations between staff and inmates.

But, he added, it was ministers alone who now had influence over the resources which were needed to bring about better conditions.

Richard Tilt, the Director General of the Prison Service in England and Wales, said Birmingham prison had applied for more money and if granted, it would be go towards increasing education places and providing a sex offender treatment programme.

The jail also came under fire seven years ago when the then Chief Inspector of Prisons, Judge Stephen Tumim, said its conditions for mentally disordered prisoners were "unacceptable".

A report said prisoners in need of specialist or hospital care were locked in cells for up to 23 hours a day in the "grossly overcrowded" jail.

In 1995, the prison was attacked by members of its own board of visitors for offering prisoners "too soft a life".

This stemmed from allegations that one inmate went on two weeks' holiday to Minorca after being released for weekend leave.

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