HMP Bedford social visits set to resume for ‘most vulnerable prisoners’

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Bedford prison
HMP Bedford

HMP Bedford is easing its coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions from June 21 and will allow access to the gym, visits and key work for its ‘most vulnerable prisoners’.

The prison is ‘looking forward to welcoming back families after a very challenging period for both families and prisoners’.

Social distancing guidelines will remain in place for visits as the prison moves into stage 3 of the prison services roadmap for easing COVID-19 restrictions.

These guidelines mean each visit session will be restricted to a maximum of 12 prisoners.

Previously, only compassionate visits in exceptional circumstances were allowed.

The news was announced earlier this week via the prison’s recently set up Twitter profile.

In a subsequent tweet, ‘further details’ are promised soon about the opening of the visits booking line.

Gov.uk’s dedicated page for the prison had, at the time of writing, not been updated with the news. But a prison call handler said on Thursday that as far as they were aware, the move to Stage 3 is going ahead.

The Bedford Independent were passed on from HMP Bedford to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to clarify the announcement’s meaning on ‘key work’ and ‘most vulnerable prisoners’.

The MoJ spokesperson cited guidance on the government website that vulnerable prisoners are those ‘at risk of bullying, suicide or self-harm’ and each may get a case manager.

Stage 3 is described as ‘Restrict’ in the prison service framework for COVID-19 restrictions easing.

The framework states ‘highest priority areas of regime (e.g. visits)’ can resume with ‘appropriate restrictions’.

It goes on to list offender management work and offending behaviour programmes among the areas which can potentially be resumed, with restrictions in place.

However, what is specifically permitted at Stage 3 is decided by each individual prison.

HMP Bedford had a significant COVID-19 outbreak in the winter, leading to inmates being completely confined to cells.

Read more: Coronavirus outbreak at HMP Bedford leads to 24 hour lockdown and ‘mini riots’ by inmates

In a letter to prisoners’ families in early March, prison governor Patrick Butler confirmed that there was, by then, just one prisoner still isolating due to a positive COVID-19 test.

HMP Bedford is currently operating well above its baseline certified normal accommodation (CNA) capacity.

There were 372 prisoners in May, and the facility’s baseline CNA is 268, according to the latest government data.

Baseline CNA calculates the maximum number of prisoners for which a ‘good, decent standard of accommodation that the service aspires to provide all prisoners’ can be offered by a prison.

The prison’s operational capacity, the total number of prisoners which can be held without ‘serious risk to good order, security and the proper running of the planned regime’, is 377.

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