WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
May 21 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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‘Squalid’ segregation unit at Bedford prison to close following legal threat

‘Squalid’ segregation unit at Bedford prison to close following legal threat

The segregation unit at Bedford prison is to close down following a threat of legal action over concerns about squalid conditions. The Howard League for Penal Reform last month sent a letter threatening to judicially review the secretary of state for justice if he continued to place people in the segregation unit at Bedford ‘given the overwhelming evidence of abject living conditions there‘.

According to the group, the government’s lawyers have now responded and, contrary to the prisons minister’s previous communication in February, saying that the unit will close with ‘immediate effect’ and the opening of  a new one is ‘on track for Spring 2024’.

‘Some of the accommodation in Bedford was the worst I have seen,’ wrote the chief prisons inspector Charlie Taylor following inspections in  October and November 2023. ‘On E wing, the smell of mould in one cell was overpowering, with the walls damp to the touch, while the underground segregation unit was a disgrace. Here, problems with the drainage mean that on very wet days, raw sewage covered the floor and the cells were dark, damp and dilapidated.’ Sandbags and wellington boots were stored on the unit ‘to help staff stem the tide’ and prisoners regularly had to be moved to other cells.

Conditions were so serious at the Victorian-era prison, that inspectors invoked the ‘urgent notification’ process in 2019. ‘I am disappointed to report that at this inspection we found that standards had fallen badly: our four healthy prison tests rated the jail as poor for safety, respect and purposeful activity, and not sufficiently good in preparation for release,’ wrote Taylor.

Despite the concerns about the segregation unit, in sectors revealed over the last 12 months, 278 prisoners had been on the unit for an average of 11 days. Eleven had been held for more than 42 days, one for more than 126 days.

The Howard League say that the government had ‘long accepted that the unit needed to be closed’. But, writes Gemma Abbott in a new blog, in February this year it seemed ‘as if the goalposts had been moved yet again’ with Edward Argar, the prisons minister, admitting in response to parliamentary questions tabled by Bedford MP Mohammad Yasin, that the government’s aim was now for the new unit ‘to open before the end of the year’.