MP for Bedford and Kempston, Mohammad Yasin MP has raised an urgent question over the safety of HMP Bedford in parliament today after a report highlights assaults on prison officers are now the highest in the country and there has been a substantial increase in suicide and self-inflicted deaths.
Yesterday, the Prison’s Minister, Rory Stewart, announced that he had received an Urgent Notification about HMP Bedford from the Chief Inspector of Prisons.
Responding to news, Mr Yasin said: “The Government has had years to address the overcrowding, the recruitment and retention of staff and the drug culture at the prison but has failed on all levels.
“The prison is well over capacity, 77% of frontline staff at the prison have under one year’s service and are too inexperienced to cope with the levels of violence and go in every day in fear of their lives and conditions at the prison are appalling. The prison is ancient, the cells are cramped and there are inadequate facilities for disabled prisoners. One in five prisoners develop a drug habit whilst in prison.
“The Prison’s Minister today acknowledged the scale of the problem, but we need action, not words. Putting in a new management team will do nothing to resolve the fact that there are simply not enough prisonofficers. The Justice Secretary must instate an emergency plan that reduces prisoner numbers, increases prison officers and uses Treasury funds to improve conditions at the prison and restore dignity and safety for staff and prisoners.”
In 2014, the prisons inspector made 72 recommendations for changes at HMP Bedford. Inspectors visited again in 2016 to find only 12 of those 72 recommendations had been met. A riot in 2016 also saw further measures brought into place. However, Mr Yasin believes that despite these measures, which included reducing the number of prisoners at HMP Bedford, the MOJ have failed to get a grip of the prison.
The Urgent Notification (UN) process run by the inspectorate allows the Chief Inspector of Prisons to directly alert the Secretary of State for Justice if he has an urgent and significant concern about the performance of a prison. The Secretary of State must then publish a response and a plan of action within 28 days.
So far this has happened three times (at Nottingham, Exeter, Birmingham) since the measure was introduced in November 2017.