Winson Green prison is dangerous and dirty - according to its boss



Birmingham's trouble-hit Winson Green prison is still too dangerous, too dirty and filled with too many prisoners on drugs. And that is the view of a man who should know – Richard Stedman, who took over as HMP Birmingham boss two months ago. In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with the Birmingham Mail, he reveals: There is still too much violence in the prison rocked by last year’s riot; Dozens of inmates try to hurt themselves and others every year; Mind-altering drugs such as Mamba, and dealer debts, fuel most of the problems; He has been forced to reduce the amount of time inmates are allowed out of cells, and Thirty extra prison guards have been recruited to make the prison safer. Mr Stedman, former director of HMP Rye Hill, near Rugby, said he has gone “absolutely back to basics” in the wake of riots that erupted in December. During the disorder inmates built bonfires, pelted staff with missiles and paint, and used an injured prisoner as “bait” during 12 hours of disturbances. In the aftermath of the riot, the prison shipped out nearly a third of its 1,450 prisoners. Around 500 inmates were moved to 30 different prisons across the country because four damaged wings were forced to close. A full refurbishment, paid for with insurance cash, has now been completed. Now, the G4S-operated prison is nearly back to full capacity after spending millions of pounds repairing and improving the wings. Investigations by the Ministry of Justice about what happened at the category B prison are still ongoing, and eight people are currently facing prison mutiny charges for the disorder, which carries a maximum sentence of up to 10 years. “There is too much violence at Birmingham Prison,” Mr Stedman told the Mail. “We want prisons to be safe and ordered, because safe and ordered prisons make for safe and ordered communities. I’m very clear about that, and I have been with the staff. I don’t think we should tolerate prisons being allowed to be violent places. That just means we put people back in the community who think that violence is okay. “At the moment we have gone absolutely back to basics in terms of ensuring we have a really controlled and ordered environment and where the consequences for prisoners around violent acts towards other prisoners and staff is consistent. “If prisoners don’t see consistency, and a really robust push back against violent behaviour, they will continue to be violent. “We need to ensure that when staff are assaulted by prisoners they receive the parity they would get if they were assaulted in the community. I do not buy into the notion that if you come to work in a prison you should accept assault and violence. “It’s still very early days. In May we started to see a slight reduction in violence, which is good, but it may be far too early to read anything into that. We need to sustain it.” Mr Stedman reveals he had been forced to reduce the time prionsers spend out of cells, a tactic he concedes is unpopular. “We are taking regime time off prisoners,” he explained. “They are having less time out of cells because we are trying to make sure that everything we do is controlled, ordered and safe. “One of the changes has been around the serving of lunch. You can have flashpoints as prisoners go through large communal areas. When I first came here that lunch service did not feel controlled enough. But that is starting to feel different now and we are seeing fewer alarm bells during lunch service. “To me it says the green shoots are starting to appear, but we have a long way to go to sustain that. It’s obviously difficult to take time off prisoners, but we have said to them it’s about their safety. Lots of prisoners hear that, and get that message.” Mr Stedman describes the issues around violence levels as complex, adding that New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) such as Mamba and Spice – formerly known as legal highs – are particularly problematic for prison authorities. “Issues around drugs, and NPS in particular – and the debt associated with that – is feeding most of the issues we have with violence here,” he said. “Gangs are also an issue in all local prisons, especially somewhere like Birmingham, where we have a large number of organised crime groups in the area. Inevitably, we will import some of the issues and behaviours from those groups. “We have to work very hard to understand them in the first place, and to work out what it is we need to do to respond to that, and keep people safe. That’s a daily thread for us. The picture shifts all the time, and with the high rate of churn of prisoners it’s something you can’t take your eye off for a second.” Mr Stedman says he wants to move on from December’s riots and rebuild the prison’s damaged reputation. “We want to say that Birmingham is not defined by what happened here in December,” he said. “I’m sure the first thing that comes up in Google on any search about the prison is what happened on that day. We obviously need to learn from what happened. “There will be some very difficult lessons. We need to make sure we are never back at that point again, and for me that’s about having order, control and safety. If we don’t allow ourselves to move on from it, how can the staff and prisoners?” Talking about what he has seen since arriving, he added: “I’ve been really impressed with the staff. They are incredibly resilient given everything they have been through since December. We save dozens of people every year who are intent on hurting themselves and others. Those people need help reassurance and that is the work that staff do here every single day – but it does not get the recognition it deserves. “We have already welcomed large numbers of new staff and have decided to go over and above our contractual staffing numbers. We will have an extra 30 staff by the end of September and that has taken a huge amount of recruitment and training. “It’s a decision that we, as a company, have made to make sure the staff group feel they are on the front foot. We are focussing now on the very basic and fundamental issues that you would want a prison to focus on in terms of order, control and safety. “I think it’s very clear that we are very much on a journey on those issues, but I think we are heading in the right direction. Difficult things will happen here, but our job is to manage that professionally, decently and securely.” What does the prison have to say? Prison boss Richard Stedman says his new “back to basics” approach will start with cleaning up HMP Birmingham – both inside and out. “There are bits off this prison that are simply not clean enough,” he said. “With a high churn of prisoners, you might say that’s inevitable. That’s not my view. The prison should be clean. “We have 1,450 people who live here, and we have 500 people who work here. I want to come to work somewhere that is clean and decent. “Prisoners want to live somewhere that is clean and decent. That’s why I have started with cleanliness in getting back to basics. We are also going to have some prisoners outside the prison cleaning up the streets. “If you drive past Birmingham Prison and it looks dirty, then that’s probably the impression you are going to take away with you. “The cleaning is purposeful and it’s saying ‘We are part of the community and we want it to be a clean and safe community’. “It will start with just one prisoner and then we will hopefully build from that. I want us to be a good neighbour. “It’s very difficult to build secure and strong foundations on anything less than an environment that is clean and safe. We have got to get this place clean, and we have got to get this place safe. “A safe workplace is a place where staff will want to come and will want to stay and build good relationships with prisoners.“My view is that HMP Birmingham needs to start looking outside a bit more. The prison needs to be part of the community, and we need to build links with community groups.“We have rejoined the local criminal justice board, which is a fundamental way for us to get good links with our world. We need good support around the walls as well as within them.”