'Damning' inspection finds rats, cockroaches, racism and violence at Bedford Prison

Credit: PA
Violence rates against staff at Bedford Prison were the highest in the country for an adult male prison. Credit: PA

A prison has been told it must urgently improve after an inspection found prisoners were living in overcrowded cells infested by rats and cockroaches.

The inspection of Bedford Prison found it had the third highest rate of recorded self-harm and the most violence against staff in any adult male prison in the country.

As well as unfavourable outcomes in four inspections since 2016, it has become the fifth prison to be given an urgent notification to improve in the last 12 months.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said: “This latest inspection is a damning indictment of the state of prisons.

"Many of the issues we found at Bedford reflect wider problems across the estate.”

Bedford Prison Credit: ITV News Anglia

Inspectors found new inmates at the category B reception prison were being placed in dirty cells with limited induction.

Meanwhile, three-quarters of inmates lived in overcrowded conditions with a widespread infestation of rats and cockroaches.

Examples of “unprofessional behaviour” and “excessive force” were seen by inspectors, with the use of force remaining “high”.

Mr Taylor wrote: “There were many staff and leaders doing their best at Bedford but some of the problems we found were symptomatic of systemic issues within the reception prison system.

“There will need to be a co-ordinated and sustained effort from national as well as local leaders to effect meaningful change at the prison.”

Staff and prisoners reported incidents of racism while a lack of staff and teachers meant education, training and work were regularly cancelled.

Prisons Minister Edward Argar said: “The findings of this inspection are unacceptable which is why we are taking immediate action to address the concerns raised.

"This includes deploying extra staff to enhance safety and we will shortly publish an action plan to set out what further measures we’re implementing to drive the improvement that needs to be made.

“Across the estate we are boosting officer numbers – with almost 1,500 more employed over the last year – and have increased starting salaries to more than £30,000 which is helping to improve retention.

"We are also pressing ahead with our plans to deliver the biggest prison expansion since the Victoria era by investing £4bn to build 20,000 new places.”

In August and September 2018, a prisoner "caught and killed rats" while the inspection was taking place.

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