The Ministry of Justice said on Monday that it would take control of HMP Birmingham from contractor G4S for an initial period of six months.
The ministry said the decision was meant to counter “squalid” conditions in the prison where rats and cockroaches were swarming the cells, showers and corridors as a result of blood, urine, vomit and feces left in the places.
The statement came after an inspection showed that prisoners were using drugs and violence with near impunity in HMP Birmingham, forcing staff to lock themselves in offices. The inspectors even reported violence at the time of their visit, saying their cars were set on fire during an arson attack.
Others said drugs in the atmosphere had physically affected them with Peter Clarke, chief Inspector of prisons for England and Wale, saying he had not seen anything like it before.
“Think of squalor, filth, the air hanging heavy with the smell of drugs, the dilapidated physical environment, a sense of great instability, the feeling that at any time violence could break out,” said Clarke, adding, “Put all that together, and what you have is a sense of an establishment that could not possibly fulfill any of the objectives of imprisonment.”
The chief Inspector of prisons, which issued the inspection report, said HMP Birmingham had deteriorated dramatically since G4S took control of the facility some 18 months ago.
Among the incidents the body detailed in its report was one in which prisoners put a nearby fire hose through an observation panel to drench a “clearly troubled man” who was struggling to maintain personal hygiene.
Prisons Minister Rory Stewart called the situation in HMP Birmingham “unacceptable,” saying “drastic action is required” to restore the situation to normal in the facility.
Authorities said a new governor and more staff would be appointed to the prison while around 300 prisoners would be moved to other sites.
The report about the situation in HMP Birmingham have revived a debate in Britain about whether private companies have enough qualifications to be trusted with the administration of core public services.
As the world’s biggest security company with 570,000 employees in 90 countries, G4S has had its share of problems in the UK. The British army stepped in at the last minute of preparations for the London Olympics in 2012 when G4S failed to recruit enough security guards for the event. The company was also disqualified from the management of a youth offending center in Kent in 2016.
However, the Ministry of Justice said private companies were performing well in management of 17 prison establishments across England and Wales.