April 19 2024
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‘Overcrowded and squalid conditions’ reported at HMP Bedford, with soaring rates of violence and self-harm

‘Overcrowded and squalid conditions’ reported at HMP Bedford, with soaring rates of violence and self-harm

Bedford Prison Recreation Yard, Courtesy HMIP
Bedford Prison Recreation Yard, Courtesy HMIP

HMP Bedford has become the fifth prison in the country to be issued with an ‘Urgent Notification’ this year after a recent inspection found it to be one of the most violent in the England and Wales.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons have issued their report on their recent inspection of the prison with the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, describing it as a ‘damning indictment’ of the state of the prison system.

Since the last check, inspectors have found that levels of self-harm in Bedford had risen by 84%. Three-quarters of the prisoners lived in overcrowded conditions, with most of them locked in their cells for more than 22 hours a day. The Inspection also found widespread evidence of rat and cockroach infestations and some cells had broken windows and black mould on the walls.

HMP Bedford had the highest levels of violent assaults against staff in adult male prisons in England and Wales. As well as attacks from prisoners, officers used excessive force and unprofessional behaviour connected to incidents where they were heard swearing at prisoners.

New prisoners were placed into dirty, graffitied cells that did not have adequate furniture or privacy curtains, and were given a very limited introduction. Charlie Taylor highlighted that this is of particular concern in a reception prison which is already a risky establishment to run, with ‘a high churn of prisoners including new arrivals who are particularly vulnerable when they are struggling with drug or alcohol withdrawal or the shock of arriving in jail’.

Time out of cells for new prisoners was poor, particularly for prisoners who needed protection from their counterparts.

The report described a recent escape by a prisoner who was meant to be under constant supervision.

Prison Minister Edward Argar said the findings were ‘unacceptable’. In a statement he urged the government would be taking ‘immediate action’ to address concerns, including the implementation of extra staff to enhance safety.

There are other areas in a state of disarray, with a significant disruption to healthcare following the introduction of a new contract resulting in gaps in patients receiving medication. The service offered by the mental health team was poor and did not meet the needs of the population. Moreover, the post of equality manager has been unfulfilled for a year, even when prisoners, staff and managers reported accounts of racism.

Charlie Taylor concluded ‘urgent action is needed to improve conditions at Bedford’.

The Chief Executive of the Prison Reform Trust, Pia Sinha, said: ‘This is the fifth urgent notification the chief inspector has issued this year and the third against a reception prison. It is also the second urgent notification that Bedford has received. Many of the problems at the prison are symptomatic of a wider crisis of staff retention, prison capacity and underinvestment. The pattern of too few inexperienced staff looking after too many prisoners in cramped and squalid conditions is one repeated across the estate. However, questions must also be asked as to why Bedford has not learnt the lessons of the past or been able to implement sustainable change.’