The escape of a prisoner who was meant to be subject to constant supervision in July 2022 highlighted substantial weaknesses in security
Last week the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, issued an urgent notification for improvement within days of finishing the inspection on 9 November 2023. Bedford becomes the fifth establishment to receive with an urgent notification in the past 12 months. Mr Taylor said that conditions had deteriorated very sharply since the previous inspection in February last year.
The Urgent Notification Protocol requires the Secretary of State to respond in public within 28 days with plans to improve a prison where Mr Taylor has significant concerns over the treatment and conditions of prisoners.
The urgent notification letter sets out a litany of very concerning issues:
The Chief Inspector did note that the governor had taken action to address issues and poor staff performance in the 11 months since her appointment, but said that the scale of leadership changes at the prison including nine new senior leaders, had created delays to improvement.
He was sympathetic to some staff, observing that many staff and leaders were doing their best at Bedford but highlighted the fact that some of the problems the inspectors uncovered were “symptomatic of systemic issues within the reception prison system”. He concluded the formal submission to the Secretary of State by saying that there will need to be a coordinated and sustained effort from national as well as local leaders to effect meaningful change at the prison.
The fact that this is the fifth urgent notification that the Chief Inspector has issued within the last twelve month period combined with the fact that Bedford prison itself was previously the subject of the protocol in September 2018 both point to the fact that the prison system is under enormous pressure and failing in many of its principal responsibilities. The frequent changes in prisons minister – Edward Argar was announced on Wednesday as the ninth different prison minister since January 2018 and the fifth since September 2021 – has clearly made it even more difficult for the Government to get a grip on the ongoing problems in our prison system.