HMPPS urged to take concerns seriously after damning report on Bedford prison
The inspection found violence had risen “alarmingly” in the last two years, largely fuelled by drugs
A report published by the prisons inspectorate has for the first time revealed the extent of the “decline and decay” that led the chief inspector to take emergency action at Bedford prison last year.
In September, HM chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke issued an urgent notification for HMP Bedford – the most serious action available to him – which required the justice secretary, David Gauke, to respond publicly with an action plan to improve conditions.
The notification followed an inspection that found “appalling” segregation conditions, rat infestations and “filthy and decrepit” accommodation, last week’s report revealed.
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The inspection also found that HMP Bedford had the highest rate of assaults on staff – which happened daily – of any comparable local prison, for which prisoners faced “few effective sanctions”. Only one comparable local prison had higher levels of violence overall: HMP Birmingham, which was temporarily taken over by the Ministry of Justice last year from the contractor G4S following a similarly damning inspection.
The prison was issued with an improvement plan in September 2016 after failing to implement many of the recommendations based on an inspection two years earlier. By May 2018 it was deemed to have made too little progress and was placed into special measures.
But in the most recent report, which was completed in November last year, Clarke said that with no sign of improvement, he had been left with no choice but to invoke the urgent notification protocol. He added: "For the sake of both prisoners and staff at HMP Bedford, I hope that on this occasion the use of the UN Protocol will lead to the concerns of HM Inspectorate of Prisons being taken seriously at all levels of [HM Prison and Probation Service]."
The prison will now be subject to an independent review of progress, plans for which CSW revealed last year.
In the report, Clarke said in the two years since its previous inspection, HMP Bedford’s performance had declined in three out of four healthy prison tests, which are used to judge conditions in prisons.
The inspection found violence had risen “alarmingly” since the previous one, largely fuelled by drugs, with prisoners too often confined to their cells for “unacceptable lengths of time” with little time spent in work or education activities. “The prison was fundamentally unsafe,” the report said.
The prison’s performance in the areas of safety, respect and purposeful activity – which includes work and education – was “poor”, and in rehabilitation and release planning was “not sufficiently good”.
“The lack of progress to date and the poor quality of the action plans led me to the inevitable conclusion that I could not be confident in the prison’s capacity for change and improvement, even when under special measures,” he said.
In the introduction to his report, Clarke wrote that the document and his letter to Gauke “give a stark description of decline and decay”.
“They tell a story of a public institution that at present fulfils none of the basic objectives of imprisonment,” he said.
The report restated a number of recommendations from the two previous reports, including a call for a detailed “time-bound action plan to reduce violence”, better support for prisoners at risk of self-harm, and action to improve staff’s skills in confronting and controlling poor behaviour.
As of September, HMP Bedford had fulfilled only 19 of the 68 recommendations the inspectorate made in 2016, it said.
“I hope that on this occasion the use of the urgent notification protocol will lead to the concerns of HM Inspectorate of Prisons being taken seriously at all levels of HMPPS,” Clarke wrote.
The report also called on the Department for Work and Pensions to make it possible for prisoners to apply for welfare benefits under the Universal Credit system before their release. It said the requirement for people to apply for Universal Credit online “presented a serious problem” for prisoners released to a Bedford address.
Responding to the report, Michael Spurr, chief executive of HMPPS, said the prisons service had already reduced prisoner numbers, set out an improvement plan and provided extra support to HMP Bedford.
“We have not ignored previous recommendations, but pressures on the prison meant that progress had been difficult," he said. "Since the inspection, we have reduced prisoner numbers further, improved cleanliness and strengthened the management team to provide greater support to staff who the chief inspector acknowledges were committed but inexperienced. We have also appointed a new, more experienced governor to spearhead this work and accelerate improvements.”
Prisons minister Rory Stewart said the prison faced “serious challenges". He added: “Our focus will be on reducing violence and drugs along with supporting our prison officers to turn Bedford around. It is abundantly clear that further action is needed. I am grateful to the chief inspector for his work.”
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