Previously good resettlement services at Birmingham prison are being compromised by new contracts which no longer provide accommodation support for short-sentenced or remand prisoners, says the independent monitoring board (IMB) in its annual report.
The IMB notes that:
- Many of Birmingham’s prisoners will not be eligible for accommodation support under the new integrated probation service contracts. This increases the likelihood of reoffending, particularly if ex-prisoners end up sleeping on the streets. Interim arrangements are in place, but a permanent solution is needed.
- The Covid-19 pandemic was managed particularly well in the prison, with rigorous hygiene regulations, infection isolation and the separation of new arrivals. The sole Covid-related death was a man in his 90s with underlying serious health conditions. The prison managed the virus well.
- Time out of cell had to be severely restricted in order to prevent Covid-19infection, which the Board recognise impacted on the welfare of prisoners. A new regime is starting to open up again under carefully monitored stages to allow for purposeful activity, education and other prison work.
- The long-awaited installation of a body scanner has arrived in the prison. This has helped reduce the ingress of drugs.
However, the IMB restates its concern at the lack of suitable accommodation in the wider prison estate and in the community for men with serious mental health issues or personality disorders. Their behaviour results in them being put into segregation, often for extended periods, as there is no other safe place to house them. Birmingham prison looks after these men as well as it is able, but more is needed within the prison service and the community.
The Chair of Birmingham IMB, Jane Perera, said:
“The resettlement team have worked hard to ensure men on release have suitable housing, ensuring that nine out of ten released prisoners have housing to go to. This is now threatened by the new contract following the reorganisation of probation services, which does not provide support for short-term or unsentenced prisoners. It is likely that men will be released to homelessness and be at high risk of reoffending.
“The pandemic has been challenging for the prison, which has coped very well with unprecedented health risks, and many prisoners have felt safe from infection as a result of the steps taken by the prison to avoid or contain Covid.
”However, the regime has been severely restricted and men have spent most of the day in their cells. This is now starting to ease but is unlikely to return to pre-covid levels. The IMB will monitor this as the prison moves forward out of Covid restrictions.