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17 Nov 2023

Howard League responds to urgent notification for Bedford prison

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded today (Friday 17 November) after His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons invoked an urgent notification for Bedford prison.

Inspectors visited the prison, in Bedfordshire, in late October and early November and found conditions so concerning that the Chief Inspector, Charlie Taylor, has written to the Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk KC MP.

The Secretary of State must respond to the Chief Inspector’s letter within 28 days, setting out an action plan for improving the prison.

Inspectors found the highest levels of violence against staff and the third-highest rate of self-harm in any adult male prison in the country. Use of force was also worryingly high, with inspectors seeing many examples of excessive force and unprofessional behaviour from staff.

Inspectors heard that racism had been witnessed by people living and working in the prison.

Three-quarters of prisoners were living in overcrowded conditions, with most spending over 22 hours locked in cells. Inspectors found dirty, graffitied cells with broken windows and black mould on the walls, and there was a widespread infestation of rats and cockroaches.

 Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Racism. Violence. Self-harm. Rats. Cockroaches. This is a devastating report, and it means that Bedford joins Exeter and Bristol on the list of prisons that have received two urgent notifications.

“These jails share chronic problems of overcrowding and staff shortages, and the fact that they have not recovered, in spite of government action plans and promises of intervention and resources, speaks volumes about the state of the system as a whole.

“Exactly 250 years ago, John Howard visited Bedford prison and was so horrified by the conditions that he devoted the rest of his life to reform. It is scandalous that we are having the same conversation today.”

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 urgent notification letter for Bedford prison will be published 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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