Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, prison visits are temporarily suspended in all prisons in England and Wales, including at HMP Bedford.
All group activities and education classes in prisons in England and Wales have been suspended too and prisoners are now confined to their cells for 23 hours a day.
HMP Bedford’s main call line is currently running an automated message advising of the suspension of all visits since Tuesday.
The message asks callers to “please only hold to speak to an adviser if you have a safeguarding issue.”
For individuals who wish to contact prisoners at HMP Bedford, the following options are recommended on the government website:
- Leave a voice message using the Prison Voicemail Service
- Send an email using the Email a Prisoner Service
- Write to them – Bedford Prison’s address is HMP Bedford, St Loyes, Bedford, MK40 1HG. Include the person’s full name and prison number (if you have them) on the envelope. All post apart from legal letters will be checked by officers.
Support and advice are also available via the Prison Families’ Helpline on 0808 808 2003.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has also announced that 900 phones are to be distributed to 55 prisons in England and Wales to further help prisoners to stay in touch with family members during the visit suspension period.
The phones will not have internet access and a spokesperson from the MoJ advised that they have not yet determined where they will be distributed to.
Bedford Independent contacted the Howard League for Penal Reform, named after famous Bedford resident and 18th century prison reformer John Howard, for comment.
They provided a statement from their Chief Executive, Frances Cook, who described it as “critically important” for prisoners and families to be able to stay in contact.
She added: “Some prisons are giving prisoners more phone credit if they cannot meet people face to face. And we could do more, such as allowing the use of technology like Skype to enable ‘virtual visits’.”
“It is vital that prisoners are treated with compassion and engaged in purposeful activity while in their cells.”
“Meanwhile, to protect the public, the government must start taking steps to reduce the number of people behind bars to ensure that Bedford and other prisons do not become breeding grounds for COVID-19.”
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland acknowledged to the Commons Justice Committee on Tuesday that the government is considering releasing some inmates on temporary licences to “alleviate” pressures within prisons.
The committee was also informed that 3,500 prison staff in England and Wales – approximately 10% of the total workforce – were off sick or self-isolating at home.
The first prison death due to COVID-19 was confirmed earlier today at HMP Littlehey, Cambridgeshire.
The MoJ spokesperson told Bedford Independent that the prisons system has “robust and flexible contingency plans which follow the latest WHO guidance”.
As of February 2020, HMP Bedford, a Category B male offender prison, held 356 prisoners, below their operational capacity of 409.