In its 2021-22 annual report the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP Bedford highlights the difficulties experienced, with the prison remaining a designated Covid outbreak site through much of autumn/winter 2021, leaving many restrictions in place.
Prisoners were locked in their cells for 23 hours a day or longer, with no access to exercise, showers or other services, including the key worker scheme, which was reduced to only the most urgent wellbeing checks. Prisoners who were surveyed reported the damaging effects of this.
The Board notes that:
- Violence towards staff remained high, with the assault rate over four times higher than comparable prisons
- Mental health services were unable to meet the needs of prisoners
- Overcrowding remained a concern, with many prisoners sharing a cell designed for one
- The effectiveness of processes to reduce self-harm was queried.
The Board, however, noted a number of positives:
- The drug rehabilitation team provided an effective service for prisoners’ treatment and recovery
- The young adult unit was opened, housing prisoners aged between 18 to 25 and staffed by specially trained officers, with initial signs of success
- Attendance rates at educational activities showed signs of sustained improvement
- The good provision of vocational training, including the new bicycle repair shop.
Kevin Whiteside, Chair of Bedford’s IMB, said: ‘There remain many difficulties to be addressed at Bedford prison, and the impact of Covid restrictions has been hugely challenging. Our survey of prisoners shows the damaging effects of regime restrictions and lack of support. Mental health services are of particular concern, with the needs of prisoners not being met. However, we are pleased that there have been improvements in key areas such as education and training and the management of young adults.’