One in five prisoners at HMP Bedford tested positive for COVID-19 in February and ‘a large proportion’ of staff were off sick. Prison inspectors visited the troubled jail which holds 372 prisoners earlier this year and found many of the problems identified in a 2018 visit remained despite the secretary of state being notified under the ‘urgent notification’ process.
Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said Bedford had experienced two large-scale outbreaks of the virus in December 2020 and February 2021. ‘At its peak, the second outbreak saw 20% of prisoners testing positive and a large proportion of staff absent from work,’ he said. Following his predecessor’s 2018 inspection conditions were so bad that the urgent notification procedure was triggered whereby the chief inspector writes directly to the Lord Chancellor and secretary of state for justice.
According to the latest inspection, living conditions had been improved since 2018 and the prison was cleaner. However the report stated that many of inspectorate’s previous concerns ‘persisted’. ‘The reported level of assaults between prisoners and on staff was the highest of all similar prisons over the last year,’ it continued. ‘Thirty per cent of prisoners said that they currently felt unsafe and nearly half said that they had been bullied or victimised by staff.’ More than half of prisoners at risk of suicide or self harm and on ACCT (assessment, care in custody and teamwork) said that they did not feel well cared for (55%).
Taylor described the quality of staff–prisoner relationships as ‘mixed’ with ‘not all staff buying into the vision of a rehabilitative approach set out by the governor’. Four out of 10 officers had less than two years’ service and more than one in five (22%) had joined in the 12 months since the beginning of the pandemic.
Inspectors reported that the quality of release planning was ‘poor’. Approximately 60 prisoners were released from the prison each month. ‘The ongoing lack of direct work with prisoners by resettlement staff was difficult to understand,’ the report said. The community rehabilitation company commissioned housing services from Nacro but both had pulled their staff out of the prison in March last year returning in May 2020 with a limited service. ‘At the time of our visit, the CRC had not provided prisoners with face-to-face resettlement support for almost a year and there were some serious deficits in their services,’ the reprt said. In the six months before the visit, more than one in five of prisoners released (23%) had been released homeless or to ‘very temporary’ accommodation.
‘Many of the key concerns that we identify in this report reflect the challenges that leaders at Bedford have faced for many years,’ Taylor said.