The man in charge of Birmingham Prison admits there have been “really difficult times” since G4S took charge two years ago.

The privately-run prison has hit the headlines after outbreaks of violence and an embarrassing incident within weeks of the takeover, in which a set of cell door keys disappeared.

The security breach cost £400,000 because every lock in the jail had to be replaced.

But Director Pete Small has now publicly praised his staff for how they have coped with the switch from public to private sector.

He said: “The handover came in 2011, but the process started two years before that in 2009.

“In that time there was an awful lot of uncertainty and anxiety, particularly from the staff. They did not ask for these unprecedented changes to happen and they have had to cope through some really difficult times.

“But they have looked after 1,450 prisoners, many of who are difficult and dangerous, with great skill and care.

‘‘The fundamentals of the job are the same in the private sector as they are in the public sector. We have to look after the prisoners and keep them safe and secure.

G4S took over the running of HMP Birmingham in 2011
G4S took over the running of HMP Birmingham in 2011
 

“Birmingham’s strength is its experience and it is those traditions that have helped bring us through.”

Mr Small, a former public sector governor, arrived to oversee the transition for G4S in June 2011, but stayed on as Director.

Speaking about the problems at the Winson Green prison, he added: “We can recognise, manage and try to minimise risks, but we cannot eradicate them.

“I think there has been an intensified glare of media attention on staff and prisoners.

“We have had a police team based inside the prison since last year and we have been doing some really proactive work.

‘‘Two people have just been jailed for two years and three years and four months for trying to smuggle drugs inside.

“Birmingham is one of the busiest local prisons in the country with a constantly turning population and more than 50 arrivals every day.

‘‘On our last inspection it was described as cleaner, safer and more decent, but there is much work yet to be done.”