The prison inspectorate can invoke a procedure called the “Urgent Notification Protocol” if it considers that an issue it has identified as part of its normal prison inspections is so serious it warrants immediate action by MoJ. This has only been done 4 times, at Nottingham, Exeter, Birmingham and now Bedford. At Bedford, the inspector, Peter Clarke, has questioned whether the Prison Service’s ‘special measures’ will be sufficient to address serious problems at HMP Bedford after inspectors found very high violence and inexperienced staff struggling to maintain control.
Mr Clarke urged the Secretary of State for Justice to intervene in Bedford prison after a visit in which inspectors feared that “there could all too easily be a complete breakdown in order and discipline.”
After the inspection at Bedford, which finished on 6 September 2018, the Chief Inspector has invoked the Urgent Notification (UN) Protocol, which enables him to bring significant problems in a jail publicly to the attention of the Justice Secretary, who must respond in 28 days. The key points raised in the letter are “a continual and unchecked decline in standards” in Bedford over the last nine years, with evidence from the inspection showing:
- Very high violence. The rate of assaults had risen significantly since the last inspection (in 2016) and Bedford was second only to HMP Birmingham. Assaults on staff were now at the highest rate in the country.
- A lack of control. Inspectors saw prisoners refusing to comply with directions from staff, without sanction or effective challenge. Some 77% of available officers had less than one year’s service and “there was a corresponding lack of experience at all levels.”
- Drugs. One prisoner in five said they had acquired a drug habit since entering the jail, and the smell of cannabis and other drugs being smoked pervaded some of the wings.
- Poor living conditions. Bedford was overcrowded. There was a huge backlog of general repairs. Towels and sheets were only being changed every four weeks and despite efforts to deal with the problem the prison was still infested with rats and cockroaches.
- Little purposeful activity. The prison lacked a culture of work or learning. Even though there were sufficient activity places for every prisoner, at least on a part-time basis, few chose to attend.
To read the full letter follow the links below
HMP Bedford Urgent Notification (675.54 kB), HMP Bedford Urgent Notification letter, issued on 12 September 2018, and inspection debriefing paper