An inmate in a prison that is “filthy and decrepit” was seen catching and killing rats during an inspection, a new report reveals.
The latest investigation by the chief inspector of prisons described cells as lacking in basic utilities, such as properly flushing toilets. Pest control work had also failed to eradicate significant rat infestation, the report found.
One notice on a door read: “Please ensure doors remain shut to prevent rats entering the wing!!!”
The report said there was an infestation of vermin, adding that one segregated prisoner “caught and killed a number of rats in his cell during the inspection”.
In September 2018, chief inspector Peter Clarke issued an urgent notification protocol – one of the most powerful tools available to him – when it was found “prisoners were effectively in control” of HMP Bedford.
Use of force by staff, including baton use, was found to be “exceptionally high” and the violent prisoners face few effective sanctions.
The scale of the violence, squalor and lack of control set out in the report is based on an unannounced inspection in August and September 2018, with 49% of prisoners saying they felt unsafe.
Inspectors said they witnessed a “serious lack of order and control on the wings”, adding that the many inexperienced wing staff struggled to exert their authority over prisoners, who did not obey basic rules or conform to expected behaviour.
The report said self-harm had increased substantially and there had been five self-inflicted deaths since the previous inspection in 2016.
Almost half of prisoners surveyed said it was easy to get illicit drugs, and a fifth said that they had developed a drug problem while in the jail.
One amputee was in a cell with no adaptations, with a wheelchair which could not be user-propelled, and told inspectors that he had had only five showers during the first eight months of 2018.
Michael Spurr, chief executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, said: “Bedford has faced significant challenges since the 2016 riot and we knew that its performance was not acceptable.
“That’s why we had already reduced prisoner numbers, set out an improvement plan and provided extra, external support.
“We have not ignored previous recommendations, but pressures on the prison meant that progress had been difficult.
“Since the inspection, we have reduced prisoner numbers further, improved cleanliness and strengthened the management team to provide greater support to staff who the chief inspector acknowledges were committed but inexperienced.”
Prisons minister Rory Stewart said: “I take the inspectorate’s findings very seriously. I visited Bedford prison last week to follow up on the recommendations in the report.
“I’m glad to say that there has been significant progress at Bedford to make it safer and more decent. But we have more to do.
“We have appointed a highly experienced and effective new governor. And I am confident that he and his senior management team and the excellent prison officers will ensure that the prison’s turnaround will continue.”
Bedford was assessed as “poor” in the areas of safety, respect and purposeful activity and “not sufficiently good” in rehabilitation and release planning.