Staff shortages and overcrowding create crisis at Bedford prison

Chronic staff shortages, along with overcrowded conditions, have created a highly volatile environment at Bedford Prison, according to the Annual Report of the Independent Monitoring Board. Prisoners complain of a lack of a predictable prison regime; too much time locked in their cells with nothing constructive to do; inexperienced officers and shortages of basic items like clothing, towels, bedding and toiletries. Most wings are frequently unacceptably dirty.

Relations between staff and prisoners have declined as conditions have deteriorated. Assaults on prisoners and staff have increased, along with prisoners cutting themselves and attempting to hang themselves. Three prisoners sadly died during the reporting year, which runs from July 2015 to June 2016, one of which was through natural causes.

Gangs of prisoners have been bullying others for their canteen and trading drugs such as ‘spice’, one of many so-called New Psychoactive Substances. These drugs have unpredictable consequences for the mental and physical health of prisoners. Drugs and mobile phones are typically thrown over the wall of the prison and the security department have struggled to limit the flow of such items. Prisoners indicate that some staff are involved in smuggling.

The difficult conditions both inside and outside the prison have made it difficult to run effective programmes for resettlement and rehabilitation. The privatisation of the Works department and the Resettlement functions, that prepare prisoners for release, has resulted in a worse service for prisoners. The prison infrastructure has suffered from the cancellation of long overdue upgrades to the heating and windows.