The British Government was told two months ago that it needed to act to prevent vulnerable prison officers from being attacked by inmates, according to a report which has emerged from the independent monitoring board. Just days after the HMP Birmingham riots, the report details show warnings were issued about the danger posed by the prevalence of psychoactive drugs within jails.
The report found that prison officers were fearful for their personal safety because of prisoners intoxicated on Black Mamba, one of a number of illegal psychoactive drugs rife within jails. On Friday, hundreds of prisoners rioted at Birmingham jail, which is the third largest in Britain. There had not been another riot like it since 1990 when unrest broke out at Strangeways.
A specialist Tornado Squad, consisting of former SAS officers, was sent in to restore order as hundreds of prisoners went on the rampage for 12 hours, taking over prison wings, the pharmacy, gym and exercise yard. Fires were set and paint thrown at officers sent in to take back control.
The mass riot followed a number of warnings that the prison service can no longer cope because of low staff numbers and an increase in violence within jails. Following the riot in Birmgham, Hull prison was also reported to be facing disorder after 15 prisoners were transferred there from Birmingham. One of the prisoners is understood to have been one of the ringleaders in the riots, having launched an attack on a senior prison officer.
There are now fears that widespread copycat riots could break out. Mike Rolfe, chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association, said that unless urgent action was taken, then it was only a matter of time before a prison officer suffered serious injuries, or even death, in violence instigated by inmates. Prison officers have already launched walkouts about staffing levels in jails.