HM Prison Birmingham

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HM Prison Birmingham
Location Winson Green, Birmingham, West Midlands
Status Operational
Security class Adult Male/Category B&C
Capacity 1450 (January 2006)
Opened 1849
Managed by G4S
Director Peter Small[1]

HM Prison Birmingham is a Category B/C men's prison, located in the Winson Green area of Birmingham, England. The prison was formerly operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service. It is now managed by G4S.[2]


Birmingham is a Victorian prison, built in 1849.

In 1995, Birmingham was criticised by its own Board of Visitors for being soft on prisoners. This arose after allegations that one inmate had gone on two weeks' holiday to Menorca, while being released for weekend leave.[3]

In January 1999 an inspection report by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons attacked conditions at Birmingham, describing the health centre in the jail as the "untidiest and dirtiest" inspectors had ever come across. The report also criticised the prison for its lack of a sex offender treatment programme, the lack of employment and education opportunities, and the inadequate bathing arrangements where some inmates were only being allowed a full wash three times a week.[3]

In March 2001 the Chief Inspector declared that conditions had worsened in Birmingham Prison where around 11% of inmates had claimed to have been assaulted by prison officers. One particular incident involved a mentally-disturbed prisoner who had been denied a wash or change of clothes for weeks because staff thought he was faking his illness.[4]

In 2002 the prison was expanded as a result of a multimillion-pound investment programme by the Prison Service. 450 additional prisoner places were added together with new workshops, educational facilities, a new healthcare centre and gym as well as extensions and improvements to existing facilities. Two years later, a report from the Chief Inspector found that conditions at Birmingham had substantially improved, stating that the prison was a place where "positive attitudes are firmly embedded".[5]

In November 2007, the Independent Monitoring Board warned in a report that overcrowding at Birmingham was putting prisoners and staff at risk. The report stated that if overcrowding was not tackled, then there was a potential for unrest.[6] Two years later, the Board issued another report that criticised levels of overcrowding at Birmingham Prison. The report also noted that inmates from the jail were being transferred to prisons further north, to accommodate increased prisoner levels from the South-East of England.[7]

Birmingham became the first publicly built, owned and operated prison in the UK to be transferred to the private sector. G4S formally took over the day-to-day running of the prison in October 2011.[8] Shortly after take over operation of the prison, G4S had to spend £499,000 replacing all the keys and locks in the prison after the master keys went missing.[9]


Numerous judicial executions by hanging took place at the prison until the abolition of capital punishment in the UK. A total of 35 executions took place at Birmingham prison during the 20th century.[10] The last person ever to be hanged at the prison was a 20-year-old Jamaican named Oswald Augustus Grey. He was executed on 20 November 1962 after being convicted of the shooting death of newsagent Thomas Bates during the course of a robbery in Lee Bank Road on 3 June 1962.[11][12][13] Christopher Simcox, a double-murderer, was scheduled for execution at Birmingham prison on Tuesday, 17 March 1964, but was reprieved.

The prison today[edit]

Birmingham holds adult male prisoners, serving the Crown and Magistrates' Courts of Birmingham, Stafford and Wolverhampton and the Magistrates' Courts of Burton upon Trent, Cannock.

Education and training at Birmingham Prison is provided by Milton Keynes College. Learning programmes for inmates include basic and key skills, bricklaying, plumbing, painting and decorating, carpentry, joinery, forklift truck training, industrial cleaning, catering, textiles, barbering, information technology, business, creative arts and performing arts. All courses lead to qualifications such as NVQs, and there is the option for further study with the Open University.

The Prison Library Service is provided by Birmingham City Council's Library Services, and all prisoners have access to the service. As well as facilities for independent learners, the library has special collections on law, employment, health, community information, English as a second or other language (ESOL), and basic skills materials. There is also a Learning Centre within the library to provide additional learning support to those with dyslexia and ESOL needs.

Physical Education at Birmingham is provided on a daily basis over a 7-day period, and evenings over 5 days. There are a number of sports delivered and also sports related subjects from basic skills to NVQ Level 2 in Sports and Recreation.

Birmingham has a prison chaplaincy with full-time chaplains from the Church of England, Roman Catholic, Free Church and Muslim faiths. There are also sessional staff from the Sikh, Buddhist and Hindu faiths.

Assaults by prisoners have been rising with an average of three assaults a week on staff, some serious. There have also been assaults and serious assaults by prisoners on other prisoners.[14] Drones were used to bring drugs into the prison which Petherick of G4S confirmed.[15]

In June 2016 inspectors said prison violence was increasing because of large amounts of illegal drugs in the prison.[16]

In autumn 2016 concerns were expressed about drugs which can make prisoners violent being smuggled into the prison. Jerry Petherick of G4S who run the prison claimed "a very small minority of staff are corrupt". Petherick also said contraband was brought in by visitors, by drones and was thrown over the walls.[17]

Staff shortages were also problematic influencing efficiency, morale, and wellbeing.[18] Jobs for prison officers at Birmingham Prison were advertised with a starting salary of just under £10 an hour.[19]

2016 prison riot[edit]

There was reportedly a buildup of frustration over prison conditions prior to the riot. Low staff numbers, poor healthcare and nutrition were cited as factors. Also being on, 'lockdown' in their cells all day was cited as a major contributing factor to the disturbance.[20]

On 16 December 2016, a prison guard was reportedly "rushed" by inmates leading to a rapid escalation of what prison officials described as "trouble".[21] According to a G4S statement, staff retreated from two of the prison's four wings, sealing the abandoned sections before withdrawing.[22] The disturbances, however, subsequently spread to the remaining two wings.[22] According to a different account of events told by a "prison affairs blogger" quoted by The Guardian, the breakdown in order began after inmates seized control of fire hoses and began breaking lights.[23] Prison staff attempted to lock down inmates in their cells, however, during the operation a guard's keys were stolen, whereupon security staff were ordered to evacuate the wing.[23] An injured prisoner was baited.[16]

A Prison Officers Association spokesman described the incident as, "another stark warning to the Ministry of Justice that the service is in crisis".[24] Shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon said, “This is only the latest in a number of disturbances across the prison estate. The justice secretary is failing to get this crisis under control.”[25] Michael Spurr of National Offender Management Service Agency claimed drugs, overcrowding, and reduced staffing had put prisons under pressure.[26]

One inmate in the prison's G wing, which is reserved for sex offenders, reportedly informed his solicitor that, during the disturbance, rioting inmates had attempted to gain access to that section of the facility and that prisoners were "terrified" they would be attacked.[22]

On Friday evening, specialist riot squads from Her Majesty's Prison Service were dispatched to assume control of the situation due to the scale of the disturbance, which had grown to involve more than 600 inmates.[21] By late that day, prison officials were reportedly back in control of the facility.[21] 460 prisoners were moved to other prisons[26] and some caused problems at Hull Prison.[27][28] The Birmingham riot was described by one source as the worst prison disturbance in a B category prison in the United Kingdom since the 1990 Strangeways Prison riot.[21] The Birmingham riot caused about £2 million worth of damage.[17]

This is the third serious incident within under two months, Riots previously happened at Bedford Prison and Lewes Prison[25] and a subsequent riot happened at Swaleside Prison.

After the riot[edit]

After the riot inspectors found violence and illegal drug use were still problematic. Some prisoners felt unsafe.[29] Prison wings damaged during the riot were not reopened until April 2017.[30] There was a further disturbance in September 2017[31] Prisoners refused to return to their cells and 28 were subsequently moved.[16]

6 prisoners died from January 2018 to late April 2018, one was from natural causes and the others are under investigation. 7 prisoners died during 2017.[16] One prisoner death was self inflicted. The Howard League for Penal Reform maintains the figure for deaths is the joint highest in England and Wales in 2018, together with HMP Durham, and considers it "extremely concerning". Roger Swindells, of the Independent Monitoring Board for Birmingham Prison described problems including overcrowding, with prisoners facing cramped conditions in Victorian cells, also cockroach and rat infestations. There is a high rate of sickness among prison officers and the prison has trouble retaining staff.[32]

Popular culture[edit]

Notable former inmates[edit]


  1. ^ "HMP Birmingham Contacts". Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  2. ^ "G4S will take over 1,400-inmate jail in October'". BBC. 1 July 2011. 
  3. ^ a b "Jail conditions attacked". BBC. 13 January 1999. 
  4. ^ "Jail 'among worst in UK'". BBC. 15 March 2001. 
  5. ^ "Report praises Birmingham Prison". BBC. 24 September 2004. 
  6. ^ "Overcrowding fears at city prison". BBC. 20 November 2007. 
  7. ^ "Prison inmates 'forced to move'". BBC. 29 January 2009. 
  8. ^ "Birmingham Prison: 123 jobs could go". BBC News. 1 July 2011. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Places of execution in the 20th century". 
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2009-08-22. 
  12. ^ "Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV) - School of Government and Society - University of Birmingham" (PDF). 
  13. ^ "newsagent murdered fifty years ago this month". The Brew 'Us Bugle. Ladywood History Group (36). Summer 2012. 
  14. ^ McCarthy, Nick (11 May 2016). "Attacks on staff at HMP Birmingham at record high, with three assaults a week". 
  15. ^ McCarthy, Nick (27 October 2016). "Birmingham prison being targeted by drug smuggling drones". 
  16. ^ a b c d Six people have died at HMP Birmingham in 2018 BBC
  17. ^ a b HMP Birmingham riot repairs 'will cost £2m'
  18. ^ Birmingham prison staff fears over inmate drug use BBC
  19. ^ Birmingham prison riot: government was warned two months earlier The Guardian
  20. ^ HMP Birmingham riot: Officers regain control of prison BBC
  21. ^ a b c d "Riot officers enter HMP Birmingham amid disturbances". BBC News. 17 December 2016. Retrieved 17 December 2016. 
  22. ^ a b c Sharman, Jon (17 December 2016). "Birmingham prison riot: Hundreds of prisoners take over four wings as disorder spreads". The Independent. Retrieved 17 December 2016. 
  23. ^ a b Grierson, Jamie (17 December 2016). "HMP Birmingham: authorities regain control after prison riot". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 December 2016. 
  24. ^ 'Disturbance' reported at HMP Birmingham BBC
  25. ^ a b HMP Birmingham prison rioters will face 'full force of law', says Truss The Guardian
  26. ^ a b HMP Birmingham riot: 240 prisoners to be moved after riot BBC
  27. ^ Hull prison 'on brink of riot' after inmates arrive from Birmingham The Guardian
  28. ^ G4S must pay for cost of Birmingham prison riot, says Liz Truss The Guardian
  29. ^ HMP Birmingham: Violence on rise, say inspectors BBC
  30. ^
  31. ^ [1]
  32. ^ HMP Birmingham 'overcrowded, in crisis and run by prisoners' BBC
  33. ^ "Ashley Blake: I began prison life in the Winson Green cell Fred West hanged himself in". Birmingham Mail. 4 September 2011. Retrieved 18 December 2016. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°29′35.54″N 1°56′14.05″W / 52.4932056°N 1.9372361°W / 52.4932056; -1.9372361