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21st Aug 2018

Justice minister blames spice for state of British prisons

Rory Stewart said 'as many as 20' jails are in a similar state to HMP Birmingham

Oli Dugmore

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 20: A welcome to HMP Birmingham sign is displayed outside of Birmingham Prison in Winson Green on August 20, 2018 in Birmingham, England. Birmingham Prison, formerly Winson Green Prison, has been taken over by the government's Ministry of Justice after inspectors said it had fallen into a "state of crisis". Extra staff and a new governor are to be brought in to take over from private firm G4S. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Rory Stewart said ‘as many as 20’ jails are in a similar state to HMP Birmingham

The minister responsible for prisons has said that synthetic drug spice is the “main driver” in deteriorating prison conditions across the country.

Rory Stewart said that “as many as 20” prisons were in a similar state to HMP Birmingham but asked to be judged on his record in 12 months time, having only been appointed in January.

Stewart said he “no longer had confidence” in G4S, the private contractor previously responsible for the prison before the government took over to implement emergency measures.

The chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clark, forced the prison back under state control after describing a “state of crisis” with “appalling violence and squalor.”

Speaking to Tom Swarbrick on LBC, Stewart said “The driver is new psychoactive substances, particularly spice, which are causing this very bizarre, aggressive behaviour from prisoners,” citing as many as 20 other locations.

Prison service ratings from last year list 15 jails “of serious concern,” including Birmingham, Nottingham and Exeter as well as Wandsworth and Wormwood Scrubs in London.

An MoJ spokesman said: “We have made no secret of the fact there are a number of prisons currently facing significant challenges across the estate.

“We monitor prison performance extremely closely. None are at the same level of concern as Birmingham, which faced a very particular set of circumstances leading to the decisive action we have taken.”