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Prisoners ‘effectively in control’ of HMP Bedford, watchdog says

PRISONERS are “effectively in control” of HMP Bedford, where violence has risen “significantly,” drugs are “easily available” and both staff and inmates feel unsafe, the prisons watchdog said today.

A recent unannounced visit to the jail found an “unchecked decline in standards” since the last inspection in 2016, forcing Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke to invoke the urgent notification protocol at a fourth jail in nine months.

Mr Clarke wrote to Justice Secretary David Gauke of his “great concern that for seven years the prison has been on a path of seemingly inexorable decline.”

He called for an “immediate and decisive intervention… to avert further decline and an even more dangerous lack of control than is currently the case.”

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said the findings represented “yet more evidence of the emergency facing our prisons system,” adding: “Conservative cuts to prisons budgets and staff have created an unprecedented crisis.”

HM Inspectorate of Prisons said assaults on staff had increased “dramatically” since 2016, with HMP Bedford now having the highest rate in Britain.

It warned of a “dangerous lack of control in many parts of the prison, leading us to fear that there could all too easily be a complete breakdown in order and discipline,” partly due to “a lack of experience at all levels,” with 77 per cent of available officers having less than one year’s service.

Mr Clarke said inspectors had witnessed an “outbreak of concerted indiscipline” when a prisoner found with a mobile phone incited fellow inmates to cause a disturbance.

Noting that staff “struggled to deal with the incident and appeared not to know what to do,” Mr Clarke said the incident showed “inexperienced staff capitulating to aggressive prisoners.”

Inspectors also discovered that one in five prisoners at the jail had picked up a drug habit since arriving at HMP Bedford, where “easily available” drugs had “fuelled” violence.

They were critical of “dirty and decrepit” conditions at the prison, which was “infested with rats and cockroaches” and had a “huge backlog” of repairs.

HMP Bedford was placed in special measures this May, but Mr Clarke warned that “placing the prison in ‘special measures’ does not, in itself, give assurance that the serious issues identified … will be adequately addressed.”

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said it was “abundantly clear that further action is needed.”

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