Bedford Prison has Covid outbreaks under control but inspectors find cases of assaults and violence still high

Prison says new body scanner is helping stop drugs and weapons being smuggled

Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 10:06 am
Updated Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 10:08 am

Inspectors to Bedford Prison have found violence is still a problem with considerable pressure as a result of Covid-19 outbreaks.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons visited the prison in February and March 2021 - and found Bedford had also experienced two large-scale outbreaks of the virus in December 2020 and February 2021.

Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “At its peak, the second outbreak saw 20 per cent of prisoners testing positive and a large proportion of staff absent from work.

Bedford Prison
Bedford Prison

“Leaders were committed to managing the spread of Covid-19 and worked hard to apply guidance on isolating prisoners. At the time of our scrutiny visit, no further prisoners had tested positive, but some staff absences continued.”

However, assaults were still an issue for Bedford - which in 2018, had such significant violence problems it was subject to a rarely used HMI Prisons Urgent Notification.

The reported level of assaults between prisoners and on staff was the highest of all similar prisons over the last year. Thirty per cent of prisoners said that they currently felt unsafe and nearly half said that they had been bullied or victimised by staff.

Mr Taylor said: “We saw some dedicated staff who interacted with prisoners well in order to provide good care and support. However, we also saw many examples of rule breaking going unchallenged, which fed the perception that prisoners could behave badly without fear of repercussion.

“The quality of staff–prisoner relationships remained mixed, with not all staff buying into the vision of a rehabilitative approach set out by the governor.”

The report noted: “Forty per cent of officers had less than two years’ service and 22 per cent had joined in the 12 months since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we were concerned about their lack of skills in managing prisoners once the restricted regime was eased. A stronger presence of middle managers was not yet improving basic prison officer work.”

Overall, Mr Taylor said: “Many of the key concerns that we identify in this report reflect the challenges that leaders at Bedford have faced for many years. While improvements were evident under our test of respect, the more systemic issues of high levels of violence and underdeveloped staff–prisoner relationships persisted. The challenge of Covid-19 had led to poorer outcomes in rehabilitation and release planning and a lack of progress in our test of purposeful activity.”

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “This report rightly recognises the significant improvements made at Bedford over the past year.

“A body scanner is helping us catch more drugs and weapons which we know drives violence and a new peer mentoring scheme is being launched to challenge poor behaviour.”