Dozens of deaths at HMP Bedford since 2000 due to ageing population
The majority were from natural causes
Dozens of inmates have died at Bedford Prison since the turn of the century, figures reveal.
Penal reform charity The Howard League has called for deaths in custody to be included in an inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic, as a record number of people died in prisons across England and Wales.
Figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) show two people died in HMP Bedford in the year to September – down from three the previous year.
Since comparable records began in 2000, the prison has recorded 38 deaths.
Across England and Wales, 396 deaths in custody were recorded in 2020-21 – a record high, and double the number there were in 2012-13.
Of the deaths last year, the majority (281) were from natural causes.
The figures do not indicate which of the deaths were due to coronavirus, but the MoJ said there have been 159 Covid-related prisoner deaths nationally during the pandemic so far – and most have occurred since September 2020.
The Howard League said older prisoners are most at risk from Covid-19, and that reversing the ageing prison population would save lives.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the charity, said: "Prisons have largely been forgotten during the pandemic, but the rising number of people who have died reveals the devastation that Covid-19 has brought to those living and working behind bars and their families.
"Tens of thousands of people have been held in overcrowded conditions or solitary confinement for months on end.
"It is almost impossible to fathom the mental distress that this will have caused.”
She called for the deaths of people in the criminal justice system to be included in the inquiry into the Government's handling of the pandemic.
Separate MoJ figures show that at the end of September, 6.2 per cent of prisoners across England and Wales were aged 60 and over – the largest share on record. Six years ago – when the statistics began – that figure was 4.6 per cent%.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: "Our population is ageing and so inevitably this is being reflected in the numbers of older people living, and dying, in prison.
"It is important that prison staff are trained to understand the needs of older people and have access to resources and support so they can meet them."
The MoJ said the ageing prison population has been driven by recent increases in the number of prosecutions for historic sexual offences.
A spokesman added: “During the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic, our decisive action saved thousands of lives and limited transmission in a uniquely challenging environment.”