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27 Sep 2016

Bedford prison: Shocked John Howard in 1773, failing again in 2016

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Bedford prison, published today (Tuesday 27 September).

Inspectors visited Bedford in May and found that standards were unacceptable. Levels of violence and self-injury had increased dramatically. The Howard League is aware of four men who have taken their own lives in the prison since the beginning of 2016.

The prison was severely overcrowded at the time of the inspection. Designed to accommodate 322 prisoners, it was actually holding 493. Most cells had damaged furniture, graffiti, clothing shortages and dirty, unscreened showers that failed to provide basic levels of decency.

One in seven men told inspectors that they had developed a drug problem during their time in the prison.

Of the 72 recommendations made by inspectors following their last visit in February 2014, only 12 had been achieved – a lack of progress described as “abject failure” by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The great reformer, John Howard, was so shocked by what he saw inside Bedford prison in the 1770s that he embarked on a personal quest to improve conditions in jails across the country and beyond. Today’s report reveals that, almost 250 years later, Bedford prison is still failing prisoners and still failing the public.

“Bedford is a good example of everything that is wrong with the prison system. It is unsafe, overcrowded and understaffed. Prisoners can obtain drugs easily but cannot get essentials such as clothes and sheets. Many prisoners have nothing to do all day and then are released without the help they need to lead crime-free lives. And conditions are getting worse.

“Urgent action is needed to make prisons safer. Cramming more and more men into these dangerous institutions is like throwing them into a fast-flowing river, to be swept away into deeper currents of crime.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  1. A copy of the Bedford inspection report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from Tuesday 27 September.


Rob Preece
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