Breaking: Striking prison staff at Bedford say they fear ‘someone will die on duty’

Striking prison staff pictured this morning (Fri)
Striking prison staff pictured this morning (Fri)

Striking prison staff say they are “just waiting for someone to die on duty”

Around 130 staff at HMP Prison at Bedford are currently on strike due to numerous concerns about safety at the Victorian prison in Bedford town centre.

But their actions have been threatened with legal action by the prison governor,

The letter sent to staff says that an injunction could be taken out if staff do not return to work.

Approximately 60 prison workers, both uniformed and non uniformed, are currently outside the prison in Bromham Road. (Friday, Sept 14)

They were repeatedly getting waves and hoots by passing motorists.

But while staff were glad to receive the support they painted a grim picture of life inside the prison.

This includes numerous and regular assaults on prison officers - a workforce where three quarters of staff have worked at the prison for less than a year.

Bedford & Kempston MP Yasin Mohammad, said: “These officers have every right to expect to be safe at work and I support their calls. If anyone is in any doubt as to the reasons for this strength of feeling amongst hard-working front line officers, they should read the latest damning report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons. Nobody should have to go to work fearing assault - and these assaults have been very serious. HMP Bedford has the highest rate of assaults on staff of any prison in the country - the Government have had years to put this right and countless warnings. I have spoken about this many times, local Councillors have spoken about the issues too on numerous occasions – but nobody pays attention. The Government have absolutely failed these officers.

Failures at Bedford Prison have been evident for years which came to a head in 2016 when a riot broke out.

In 2014, the Prisons Inspector made 72 recommendations for what needed to change at HMP Bedford.
In 2016 when the inspectors visited again they found that only 12 of those 72 recommendations had been met.

Despite new measures being brought in following the riot, including reducing the number of prisoners at the jail, the MOJ have failed to get a grip of the

prison. It was found by the Inspectorate that Bedford was making insufficient progress and was placed in “special measures” in May.

Speaking about the urgent notification from the Chief Inspector of Prison’s, MP for Bedford and Kempston, Mohammad Yasin added: “This is a damning report on the state of HMP Bedford. After 9 years of steady

decline, the prison has become so dangerous that assaults on prison officers are now the highest in the country and there has been a substantial increase in

suicide and self-inflicted deaths.

“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. 1 in 5 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 prison officers.

“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.”

“Earlier this week MP for Bedford and Kempston, Mohammad Yasin raised an Urgent Question over serious concerns about the safety of HMP

Bedford in Parliament.”

Mr Yasin was informed by the Prison’s Minister, Rory Stewart on Wednesday that the Government had received an Urgent Notification about

HMP Bedford from the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

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.