Brum Lags Want Fags

Posted 18th September 2017 by Dave Cross
HMP Birmingham had a reputation for being an orderly, well-run establishment. Then it was handed over to G4S in 2011, the first privatised prison. Since then it has developed a reputation for squalor, violence and an unsolvable drugs problem. The city jail, formerly Winson Green, holds up to 1,450 inmates and exploded in violence last week.

We reported how experts were warning that if prisons pushed through with the workplace smoking bans there would be violence. A memo went out to all inmates which said: “We will continue to support prisoners who currently smoke by increasing the number of staff who can deliver ‘stop smoking’ services through the establishment. I encourage you to start your preparation now and apply for ‘stop smoking’ services.”

The prison service undertook trials with a specially designed electronic cigarette, but the rollout has not gone smoothly and there has been a reluctance to switch over from smoking “snout”.

It was noted that during the trial period, where cigarettes were limited or banned, increased levels of self-harm, violence and the use of illegal drugs accompanied the move. Expert Alex Cavendish warned: “We have a mental health crisis, fuelled by under-staffing and overcrowding, as well as the fact that prisons are already awash with drugs and mobile phones, as every report from HP Inspectorate confirms. You’ve already got an epidemic of suicide, self-harm and violence both against staff and other inmates. The experience of the pilot projects of the smoking ban that they’ve run from last year shows that there are very serious concerns.”

When the new boss of HMP Birmingham took over one month ago, even he noted: “[The] prison is dangerous, dirty and overrun with drugs”. Violence has proliferated since the riot last year, fuelled by addictions to Mamba and the debts owed to dealers.

It was a powder keg waiting to be ignited and, as predictable as it was avoidable, the cigarette ban introduced on September 1st provided the spark. Tornado teams, special operations squads trained in dealing with prison riot situations, were dispatched from across the country.

“We want burn, we want burn,” chanted the rioters – demanding access to tobacco.

A spokesperson said: “Specially trained prison staff successfully resolved an incident at HMP Birmingham on 3 September. There were no injuries to staff or prisoners. We do not tolerate violence in our prisons, and are clear that those responsible will be referred to the police and could spend longer behind bars.”

What is clear is that if vaping is going to provide a way to help prisoners make the transition away from smoking then it needs to be handled in a better fashion than this. The blanket ban is doing nothing more than placing under-funded, over-worked staff in danger.


 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker