Violence increase at Bedford Prison - report reveals gangs on main wings but staff are ‘still in control’

Bedford Prison.
Bedford Prison.

Cases of violence and self-harm at Bedford Prison have more than doubled, a watchdog has revealed in its latest report.

Although few incidents resulted in serious injury there have been two deaths at the Category B prison - on November 7, 2013 and June 15 this year.

Prison governor Ian Blakeman agreed that outbreaks of violence have gone up but said the figures have not doubled. He said: “When you look at people’s offences there are more violent offenders in prison than there were two years ago so it is not surprising that they act in a more violent way.”

Money is being invested in more CCTV, staff training and ways to better police the problem.

The Independent Monitoring Board has to report annually to the Secretary of State and, in its latest report covering July 2013 to June 2014, concerns were raised over the ease at which prisoners can get drugs.

The report said: “The collateral cost of drugs in the prison is very high indeed, as their trade leads to countless acts of violence and intimidation.”

Mr Blakeman said the law needs to change regarding the so called legal high ‘spice’ - a type of synthetic cannabis. “We haven’t got the law on our side at the moment,” he said.

There has been an increase in the prevalence of gangs on the main wings and mobile phones, which can be as small as car key fobs are reportedly widespread, according to the report.

Mr Blakeman puts gang issues down to prisoners from Luton and Bedford who are also involved in gang culture outside of prison, but he said: “The prison staff are still the biggest and most powerful gang. Staff are in control here.”

He said he has mobile phone blocking technology at his disposal and the prison is investing in mobile phone detection technology.

Worries about the impact of overcrowding and a lack of staff were also raised in the report. The prison is currently recruiting for 15 vacancies and Mr Blakeman said ‘crowding’ is managed in a safe way. “In an ideal world we wouldn’t have a prison population that is growing,” he said.

Mr Blakeman added that he was pleased that the report had recognised the hard work of prison staff. He said: “The staff are really effective at dealing with prisoners decently and at difficult times. They are a really good bunch of staff here.”