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14 Feb 2024

Howard League responds to Bedford prison inspection report 

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Bedford prison, published today (Wednesday 14 February).

Inspectors visited the prison, in Bedfordshire, in October and November 2023 and found some of the worst conditions they had ever seen, alongside high levels of violence and self-harm.  

Conditions were so bad that inspectors invoked an urgent notification, giving the Secretary of State for Justice 28 days to respond with an action plan for improvement.   

Inspectors highlighted that most people in the prison were held in overcrowded conditions, and that cells contained broken furniture and windows, graffiti, damp and mould, and infestations of rats and cockroaches. In the segregation unit, problems with drainage meant that on some days there was raw sewage covering the floors.  

Figures for assaults on staff were among the worst in the country. Inspectors also found an increase in self-harm from their last inspection, as well as a lack of support for the most vulnerable people held in the prison, and a serious deterioration in mental health services.  

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The photographs in this report have to be seen to be believed – mouldy cells, a damaged door, sandbags in the segregation unit, and even a table etched on the wall to count the number of times cockroaches have crawled into view.

“These images are an utterly appalling indictment of the prison system today, and they should compel politicians on all sides to work constructively to ensure that no one is held in such terrible conditions ever again. 

“Sensible steps to reduce the number of people behind bars would ease pressure on jails such as Bedford, save lives, protect staff and reduce 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.
  2. The inspection report for Bedford prison is available on the His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons website at:


Noor Khan 

Press and Public Affairs Officer 

Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7873 




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