Inspection of HMP Bedford

The prison was given full inspection in May 2016. In their report the inspectors said

“HMP Bedford is a local category B and resettlement prison for young adult and adult men. At the time of this inspection it held 493 prisoners. It was last inspected in February 2014 when we made 72 recommendations. On this occasion we found that of those 72 recommendations, only 12 had been achieved and four partially achieved. In light of this it is hardly surprising that this is a disappointing report. It is hard to understand how such an abject failure to address clear recommendations from HM Inspectorate of Prisons has been allowed to happen. Clearly neither local management nor the National Offender Management Service accepted responsibility for ensuring that action was taken. As a result, standards in the prison have declined to unacceptable levels.

In the key area of safety, a mere three out of 17 recommendations were achieved. Although the prison had good knowledge of where and when violent incidents were occurring, far too little was being done to analyse them and take effective action to reduce the violence. The levels of self-harm among prisoners had increased dramatically since the last inspection, and despite the fact that there had been self-inflicted deaths, not all recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman had been embedded into practice.

As in so many other prisons, it is quite clear that the ready availability of drugs, particularly new psychoactive substances (NPS) was having a serious impact on the safety of the prison. Despite this, there was no effective drug supply reduction strategy in place. Our survey showed that the number of prisoners saying that it was easy or very easy to get drugs had almost doubled since the last inspection. The number saying that they had developed a drug problem while in HMP Bedford had risen from 4% to 14%. The stark reality is that prisoners told us it was easier to get illegal drugs in the prison than it was to get clothes or sheets.

The physical condition of the prison was also poor, with many prisoners living in crowded and cramped conditions. The details of the living conditions endured by prisoners are set out in Section 2 of this report, and do not need repeating here. Suffice it to say damaged furniture, graffiti, shortages of clothing, damp clothing hanging on homemade washing lines in cells, and dirty, unscreened showers do not offer basic levels of decency.

When it comes to preparing prisoners for release, only three of the recommendations made at the last inspection had been achieved. Offender supervisors had infrequent contact with prisoners on their caseload. Delays in implementing the community rehabilitation company (CRC) arrangements meant that resettlement arrangements were weak. The CRC was not able to provide accurate data as to how many prisoners were released homeless, or into education and training.

In the face of all these failings, it is slightly reassuring to be able to report on some things that are far more positive about HMP Bedford. For instance, 79% of prisoners said that staff treated them with respect. The food was rated as good or very good by 43% of prisoners, more than double the figure in similar prisons. PE equipment and facilities were good.

I am not suggesting that staff at HMP Bedford are not working hard – inspectors found that they clearly were, and some important building blocks had been put in place to improve things in thefuture. The management of the prison is well aware of the challenges they face, but have not as yet been able to address them effectively. The lack of consistent leadership is unlikely to have helped the situation. There had been four people fulfilling the role of governor since the last inspection, due to a combination of factors including promotion, retirement and maternity leave. While some of this lack of continuity is unavoidable, the effect in terms of rapid changes of leadership is the same.

However, the clearest lesson to be drawn from this disappointing inspection is that if inspection recommendations are ignored to the extent that they have been at HMP Bedford, it is the prisoners who will suffer. Unfortunately, there seems to have been little progress in the period immediately following this inspection. I had been unable to attend the inspection itself, and so made an announced follow up visit two months later to make an assessment for myself. I was disappointed to find, despite assurances to the contrary, that first night arrangements were still unacceptably poor. I found that prisoners were not being sent to what had been designated as the first night centre on C wing, but were being sent wherever there was an available space. I met one foreign national prisoner who had been received into HMP Bedford the day before my visit. He had been placed in a cell with three other prisoners on C wing. The wing staff did not even know they had a new arrival in their care, and we were only able to locate him through the good offices of a wing orderly. Given that concerns had been clearly set out in the written feedback mad e available to the prison at the time of the inspection, it is hard to understand how this situation could arise.

The responsibility to deliver on our recommendations lies mainly with the governor but there also has to be effective oversight at a national and regional level, particularly where consistent local leadership is lacking and where some significant areas of delivery are dependent on national contracts outside the governor’s direct control. Unlike our report in 2014, this inspection needs to be taken seriously, with a clear plan of action put in place to implement the recommendations, and improvements delivered through consistent and effective leadership and appropriate oversight.


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

July 2016

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

 Return to Bedford

The full reports can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below:

  • HMP Bedford (843.33 kB)  Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Bedford (9 – 20 May 2016)
  • HMP Bedford, Unannounced inspection of HMP Bedford (27 January – 7 February 2014)
  • HMP Bedford, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP Bedford (2 – 5 May 2011)
  • HMP Bedford, Announced inspection of HMP Bedford (2-6 March 2009)