Bedford Prison in ‘urgent’ need of improvement, inspectors warn

Bedford Prison has been issued with an urgent notification to improve after inspectors found violence, squalid conditions and high rates of self-harm.

The category B reception prison is the fifth to be given an urgent notice in the last 12 months.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said: “This latest inspection is a damning indictment of the state of prisons. Many of the issues we found at Bedford reflect wider problems across the estate.”

An inspection by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in the last month found levels of violence against staff were at the highest rate in any adult male prison in the country, while it had the third highest rate of recorded self-harm.

In a letter to Justice Secretary Alex Chalk setting out the issues, Mr Taylor said HMP Bedford has “consistently failed to provide good outcomes for prisoners” across four inspections since 2016.

A previous urgent notification in 2018 had been followed by a more favourable report in 2022 but an unannounced inspection from October 30 to November 9 found “many similar concerns”, according to Mr Taylor.

He wrote: “There were many staff and leaders doing their best at Bedford but some of the problems we found were symptomatic of systemic issues within the reception prison system.

“There will need to be a co-ordinated and sustained effort from national as well as local leaders to effect meaningful change at the prison.”

He said the governor has addressed issues and poor staff performance in 11 months since her appointment but improvement has been delayed by a large number of leadership changes.

Among the concerns found by the inspection were new prisoners being placed in dirty cells with limited induction while three quarters of inmates lived in overcrowded conditions with a widespread infestation of rats and cockroaches.

Examples of “unprofessional behaviour” and “excessive force” were seen by inspectors, with the use of force remaining “high”.

Staff and prisoners reported incidents of racism while a lack of staff and teachers meant education, training and work were regularly cancelled.

Prisons Minister Edward Argar said: “The findings of this inspection are unacceptable which is why we are taking immediate action to address the concerns raised. This includes deploying extra staff to enhance safety and we will shortly publish an action plan to set out what further measures we’re implementing to drive the improvement that needs to be made.

“Across the estate we are boosting officer numbers – with almost 1,500 more employed over the last year – and have increased starting salaries to more than £30,000 which is helping to improve retention. We are also pressing ahead with our plans to deliver the biggest prison expansion since the Victoria era by investing £4 billion to build 20,000 new places.”