Inspection reports released yesterday into two prisons, HMP Bedford and HMP Swaleside, both found there to be high levels of violence and self-harm among inmates.
In respect of HMP Bedford, the report from the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) revealed high levels of self-harm in comparison to other similar prisons. High levels of violence towards staff, and prisoner-on-prisoner violence were also found, with HMP Bedford having, proportionally, the highest number of assaults on staff of 29 similar prisons.
Prisoners were also found to be spending far too long in their cells of up to 20 hours a day. This was reported as contributing to poor mental health, self-harm, and increasing levels of violence, as many would be ‘coming out fighting.’ Poor resourcing of the prison’s mental health team was also seen to be problematic in preventing it from providing an effective service.
HMP Bedford was also reported to have poor living conditions and problems of overcrowding. Prisoners were sharing cells designed for one, which also meant two people were sharing the same toilet with minimal privacy. The main prison wings were found to have ‘ancient infrastructure’ and were plagued by pigeon droppings, cockroaches and occasional rats. Prisoners also reported ongoing problems with broken showers and tumble dryers and having no washing powder available for over a month.
Similarly, a report released yesterday by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons also found high levels of violence and self-harm at HMP Swaleside in Kent. Fourteen prisoners had died at Swaleside in the previous two years, which included seven prisoners who had taken their own life. Whilst some improvements had been made with the rate of self-harm reducing 56% since 2021, it still remained comparatively high to other similar prisons. It was also found that investigations into violent incidents were often delayed and of poor quality.
There were also insufficient opportunities for work and education and 39% of prisoners were locked in their cells during the day. Drugs were also reportedly easy to obtain and the measures which had been taken to reduce supply had not been effective.
In relation to HMP Swaleside, Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said ‘This was our sixth visit to Swaleside since 2016. During that time, we have repeatedly raised significant concerns about the prison.’ He concluded that: ‘Overall, this was a concerning inspection. Swaleside is a prison that continues to struggle and where outcomes still need to improve dramatically.’
Both inspection reports found that inadequate staffing was contributing to problems at HMP Bedford and HMP Swaleside. Whilst HMP Bedford should have been relatively fully staffed, up to 35% of staff were ‘non-effective’ due to sickness, training, secondments, or restricted duties. At HMP Swaleside, the report discussed ‘chronic difficulties in recruiting officers and more specialist staff’ which prevented the prison from providing the required level of service. Inadequate staffing levels had forced the prison to rely upon sourcing temporary staff from other prisons in order to sustain operations.