Inspection of HMP Bedford

The prison was given full inspection in August 2018. The inspectors took the unusual step of issuing an “Urgent Notification Notice” immediately after that inspection, a copy of which can be found by following the links below.  In their report actual  the inspectors said:

HMP Bedford is a category B local and resettlement prison for young adult and adult males. It has stood on its current site in the centre of Bedford since the early 19th century and accepts prisoners mainly from the local Crown Courts and magistrates’ courts. At the time of this inspection it held 420 prisoners. The last inspection took place in May 2016.

This inspection found that the prison has continued on a seemingly inexorable decline that is evident through the results of the four inspections carried out since 2009. It used to have a reputation as a good local prison, and the collapse in standards is as sad as it is inexcusable. HM Inspectorate of Prisons found that in the two years since the last inspection performance had declined in three of our four healthy prison tests. It was now assessed as ‘poor’ in the areas of safety, respect and purposeful activity and ‘not sufficiently good’ in rehabilitation and release planning.

HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) had made the prison subject to a Performance Improvement Plan in September 2016, but by May 2018 it was judged that there had been insufficient progress and the prison was placed in what HMPPS terms ‘special measures.’ This latest inspection revealed treatment and conditions for prisoners that would, of themselves, have justified me invoking the Urgent Notification (UN) Protocol, under which the Secretary of State is obliged to respond publicly within 28 days with proposals for improvement. Nevertheless, I carefully studied what had been done under special measures and what was envisaged to be done under the action plans that had been produced. 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, and so invoked the Urgent Notification Protocol on 12 September. My letter to the Secretary of State and his initial response are at Appendix IV of this report.

I shall not, in this introduction, set out in detail the findings of the inspection. The letter to the Secretary of State and the report itself give a stark description of decline and decay, and speak for themselves. They tell a story of a public institution that at present fulfils none of the basic objectives of imprisonment.

The prison was fundamentally unsafe. Violence of all kinds had risen alarmingly since the last inspection a mere two years ago. In the same period there had been five self-inflicted deaths and levels of self-harm had risen. The violence was largely fuelled by drugs, and the prisoners – many of them living in fear – were confined for unacceptable lengths of time in cells that were all too often infested with vermin, dirty and unfit to be occupied. Many staff were doing their best in difficult circumstances, but inspectors witnessed a dangerous lack of control and excessive tolerance of poor behaviour. Meanwhile, few prisoners attended work or education and there was little encouragement to do so by staff. Many prisoners milled about aimlessly on wings with nothing to do. In short, the prison lacked a culture of work or learning.

The use of the Urgent Notification Protocol is not something that I take lightly. I am required to have ‘significant concerns with regard to the treatment and conditions of those detained’. Sadly, in the case of HMP Bedford, that threshold was easily exceeded, and the lack of credible plans to address the dangerous shortcomings was inexplicable given the steady decline over many years and the fact that a Performance Improvement Plan was put in place some two years ago. I should also point out the abject failure over many years to respond to recommendations for improvement made by this Inspectorate. In 2016 we found that a mere 12 of the 72 recommendations made at the 2014

inspection had been achieved. On this occasion we found that the prison had achieved just 19 of the 68 recommendations made in 2016. For the sake of both prisoners and staff at HMP Bedford, 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.


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

November 2018

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: