December 17, 2016
LONDON (AP) — Security officers restored order Saturday at a prison in the central English city of Birmingham a day after an estimated 600 inmates seized control and launched a destructive rampage. Authorities called Friday’s 13-hour takeover of HMP Birmingham the worst prison uprising since the 1990 riot in Strangeways in Manchester, which lasted 25 days and left one prisoner dead.
No staff members were injured but one prisoner remained hospitalized Saturday with a suspected broken jaw and eye socket. Trouble flared as prisoners rushed a guard and stole his keys, giving them eventual access to all four wings of the Victorian-era prison in England’s second-largest city. Inmates lit fires, set off fireworks, broke into guards’ offices to steal clubs and helmets, and smashed windows and toilet blocks.
A stream of security vans came and went Saturday from the prison. The Justice Ministry said at least 240 Birmingham inmates were being transferred to other prisons nationwide while more than 1,000 remaining would face greater restrictions on movement.
Justice Minister Liz Truss said the security failure will be fully investigated, while those convicted of rioting will face longer sentences. But prison officer leaders and other authorities warned that the scale of the latest unrest underscored a system-wide crisis of understaffing and overcrowding.
They pointed to a string of trouble in the past two months, starting with the stabbing death of an inmate Oct. 18 inside Pentonville in north London, a riot Oct. 29 in Lewes south of the capital, and another riot Nov. 6 in Bedford to the north.
Mike Rolfe, chairman of the Prison Officers Association, said overcrowding and staff cuts meant Britain inevitably would face disorder. “Birmingham’s lost over 30 staff in the last few weeks through resignations, people just not wanting to work there,” Rolfe said. “It’s such a difficult and dangerous job, and the whole service is in crisis.”
Steve Dagworthy, a former convict who advises prison-bound clients, said spending cuts since 2010 had cost 7,000 guard positions and curtailed programs. “We have too few officers looking after too many prisoners (who) have too little to do,” he said. “If you cage these prisoners like animals in these Victorian prisons, with two men to a cell which was designed for one, and you unlock them and say immediately, ‘Sorry guys, you’ve got to go back to your cell,’ inevitably they’ll turn around and say: ‘We’ve had enough, we’re rebelling.'”