Beds, Herts & Bucks

HMP Bedford: 'Insufficient' progress at violent prison

Bedford Prison
Image caption The lack of a drugs scanner at the prison was "indefensible", inspectors said

"Insufficient" progress has been made in addressing problems at a jail which was found to have alarming levels of drug-fuelled violence a year ago.

Findings of an inspection at HMP Bedford last year led the chief inspector of prisons to alert the justice secretary to the situation.

When inspectors returned in August they found progress had been insufficient "in the majority of areas".

But the director general of prisons said violence and drug use had fallen.

In 2018, chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke invoked urgent notification (UN) protocol which requires the Lord Chancellor to publicly respond with an action plan.

When inspectors returned this year, Mr Clarke said "they found a mixed picture with progress ranging from none to good, but in the majority of areas progress had been insufficient".

Image caption In November 2016 a riot caused £1m of damage to two wings at the prison

The level of violence was still very high, with some serious incidents, and self-harm had increased dramatically since the inspection.

Efforts to reduce violence had been limited and very slow to start, and the attention given to preventing self-harm and supporting those in crisis was poor, inspectors said.

The report noted: "In this permissive culture of poor behaviour, prisoners felt able to push the boundaries further - such as refusing to return to their cell at lock-up time or creating chaos when returning to units from outdoor exercise.

"If not managed consistently and firmly, this negative behaviour had the potential to escalate, as we had witnessed during the inspection in 2018."

Mr Clarke said despite significant efforts, drugs continued to be a major problem and the lack of a body scanner to detect drugs was "indefensible".

HMP Bedford was put into special measures in May 2018 after concerns over living conditions and violence levels.

Director general of prisons Phil Copple said: "The new governor and his staff have been working hard to improve conditions at Bedford and levels of violence and drug use have fallen since the urgent notification.

"Reducing violence, self-harm and drug use will remain top priorities and further support from the Prison Service's national resources will continue."

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