England

Truss warns prison problems 'will not be resolved soon' after riots

Guards leave the jail Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Specialist teams were seen leaving the prison on Saturday

Solving problems in England's jails will take months or longer the justice secretary has warned, following Friday's riot at Birmingham prison.

Liz Truss said the priority was to make jails "stable and safe" while the government went ahead with reforms.

She told MPs 380 inmates had been moved from HMP Birmingham after the riot.

Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said there was "a crisis in our prisons which was a symptom of a failing government which had lost control".

There were incidents at Cardiff Prison and Hull Prison on Sunday involving Birmingham prisoners, it has emerged.

The Birmingham riot followed trouble at Bedford and Lewes prisons in recent weeks.

Barricaded into cell

Ms Truss said she had ordered "a full investigation" to be led by National Offender Management Service director Sarah Payne and she did not "want to prejudge the outcome of this".

She said the disorder at Birmingham represented a "serious disturbance" which took more than 12 hours to bring under control.

Stairwells were set on fire and paper records destroyed during trouble in four wings of the category B prison, run by private firm G4S.

At Cardiff, four prisoners who were transferred from Birmingham after the riot were believed to have barricaded themselves into a cell in protest at the move, according to BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw.

After two hours the matter was resolved when the prisoners surrendered and were taken to the segregation unit. Nobody was injured.

As well as the incident at Hull Prison, there were minor outbreaks of trouble at several other jails over the weekend.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Liz Truss said the "issues" in prisons would not be solved "in weeks or even months"

Friday at HMP Birmingham - Liz Truss statement

09:15 Six prisoners in N wing climbed on to netting. When staff intervened, one of them had their keys snatched. Staff withdraw for own safety. Prisoners then gained control of that wing and subsequently of P wing. G4S immediately deploy two Tornado teams

11:20 Gold Command is opened and a further seven Tornado teams dispatched to prison

13:30 Prisoners get access to two more wings. Gold Command needs more reinforcements and despatch four more Tornado teams to prison

14:35 Police and Prison Service secure perimeters of all four wings which remain secure throughout day

15:00 Reports of an injured prisoner. Paramedics and staff tried to intervene, but were prevented from doing so by prisoners

During afternoon plan prepared to take back control of wings minimising risk to staff and prisoners.

20:35 Ten Tornado teams swept through the wings. Shortly after 22:00 all four wings are secured.

Injured prisoner treated by paramedics and taken to hospital with two more prisoners.

Riots have followed repeated warnings about low staffing levels across prisons, watchdog the National Council of Independent Monitoring Boards said.

Ms Truss said staffing levels were being increased by 2,500 officers and she repeated plans to hire more staff through apprenticeship schemes and invest more than £1bn in prison buildings.

She said: "The issues in our prisons are long-standing and they are not going to be completely solved in weeks or even months."

Ms Truss said levels of violence were "too high in our prisons" and she said there were "very concerning" levels of self-harm and deaths in custody. Action was being taken against "drugs, drones and phones", she said.

Of the 2,500 figure, a Prison Officers Association spokesman said: "The issue we have is that while we welcome that announcement, the question we ask of Liz Truss and the Ministry of Justice is that how do we intend to recruit and retain staff when last year we had more leavers than people recruited?"

Mr Burgon asked whether Ms Truss "regretted" previous cuts of prison staff made by the government.

"This is a failure to protect society," he said.

"Privatisation of the probation service, savage cuts to prison staffing, overcrowding in our prisons, cuts to through-the-gate services, all stop prison working and put the public at avoidable and increased risk."

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