HMP Bedford inmate took his own life after two days in jail

A mentally ill prisoner was found hanged in his cell hours after telling staff he heard voices “telling him to kill himself”, a report has found.

Michael Berry was deemed to be “high risk” when he was remanded at HMP Bedford in March 2017, appearing in a “fragile” state and detoxifying from heroin and crack cocaine use.

The report by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman found Mr Berry told staff he was “finding it hard to ignore the voices telling him to kill himself, was distressed, hopeless, teary and prone to acting impulsively”, prompting staff to increase self-harm monitoring observations from twice an hour to five times an hour.

Staff and prisoners said they heard Mr Berry, 24, calling from his cell, although a doctor said the prisoner would not engage with him. He was also described as “arguing with himself and seemed tormented”.

A subsequent check by staff noted Mr Berry was “pacing up and down in his cell and talking to himself”. Around 20 minutes later, he was found hanged.

The watchdog found failings previously identified in the mental health support offered to inmates at the jail had not been properly heeded.

It said Mr Berry was at Bedford jail having been charged with 22 offences including violence, kidnap and sexual assault of an adult male.

He had a significant history of drug and alcohol abuse and had recently been admitted to a mental hospital twice, including following an attempt to jump out of a window.

The report said it was “concerning” there was no record of an email from the court to theprison explaining Mr Berry’s fragile mental state and the risk of self-harm.

Mr Berry was the eighth prisoner to take his own life at Bedford since 2013.

In six of the investigations, the ombudsman found staff operated suicide and self-harm prevention procedures ineffectively and recommendations were made to improve the assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) process.

Four of the investigations identified failings in the mental health support offered to prisoners and, as Mr Berry’s case shows, this continued to be an issue.

There has been a further self-inflicted death at Bedford since Mr Berry, the watchdog said.

Read the Report

Prisons Inspectorate Issues 4th Urgent Notification About HMP Bedford

Inmates have effectively taken control at a violent, overcrowded and vermin-infested jail, a watchdog report has warned

Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke raised the alarm over the potential for a “complete breakdown” in order and discipline at HMP Bedford.

Pressing the Government to take urgent action, he said a recent inspection of the prison had revealed a “dangerous lack of control”.

Mr Clarke’s assessment, sent to Justice Secretary David Gauke on Thursday, detailed how “extremely inexperienced” staff struggled to exert their authority.

Prisoners regularly and blatantly ignored rules and staff instructions, often without sanction or challenge.

Mr Clarke said: “Despite the best efforts of staff at all levels, there was a dangerous lack of control in many parts of the prison, leading us to fear that there could all too easily be a complete breakdown in order and discipline.

“At times it felt as if prisoners were effectively in control, choosing when or if to comply with directions and consent to authority.”

On one occasion during the visit, an inspector found prisoners throwing food from higher landings.

Mr Clarke said: “Prisoners’ behaviour was very rowdy and unrestrained and the incident had the potential to escalate.

“Staff were unwilling to go upstairs to intervene, and prisoners told the inspector this was not unusual.”

Mr Clarke triggered the “urgent notification” scheme, which means the Government must respond within a month to set out its response to the findings.

The inspection at HMP Bedford, which concluded last week, found:

– Assaults on staff had risen dramatically, with the rate – 116 in the last six months – the highest in the country;

– There had been five self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection;

– The smell of cannabis and other drugs being smoked “pervaded” some of the wings;

– Living conditions were poor, often overcrowded, dirty and vermin-infested.

It emerged in May that HMP Bedford had been placed into “special measures” after the Prison Service determined it needed additional, specialist support to improve performance.

In November 2016, the facility for adult male inmates was hit by a major disturbance, which reportedly caused £1 million of damage.

Bedford is the fourth jail to be subject to a notice under the urgent notification scheme since it was introduced less than a year ago.

Last month, Mr Clarke triggered the process as he published a scathing assessment of HMP Birmingham.

Mark Day, of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “This fourth urgent notification issued against a local prison since January this year should be a wake-up call to ministers.

“The Chief Inspector highlights an unchecked decline in standards over the space of nine years and so no-one can say that they didn’t see this coming.”

Prisons minister Rory Stewart said: “Bedford prison faces serious challenges. We placed it in special measures before the inspection was conducted and we are bringing in senior experienced managers.

“Our focus will be on reducing violence and drugs along with supporting our prison officers to turn Bedford around. It is abundantly clear that further action is needed.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said:

“Its truly shocking – honestly, how could it have got to this?

“Peter Clarke reports [page 4]: ‘Two prisoners who were amputees were unable to shower regularly as they didn’t have the necessary adaptations. One said he had only had five showers this year and to wash himself he had to sit on the floor of his cell and try to splash water on himself from the sink.’

“Come on, be honest; what if that was your son – and if it isn’t yours, it will be someone’s right?

“Charles Dickens wrote books about prisons like this and, were he alive and able to walk its landings, a lot of what he saw he would still recognise as Bedford Prison today.

“Does the Ministry of Justice have no shame?”

Main Points

HMP Bedford has:

  • Had NINE YEARS of unchecked decline in standards
  • Managed to implement just 21 of the 68 Inspectorate Recommendations made in 2016;
  • The highest rate of assaults at any prison in the whole of England and Wales;
  • Prison Staff where well over three quarters of the total compliment have less than ONE YEAR Prison Service experience;
  • Cannabis smoke pervading through the wings, and;
  • Deplorable conditions in which no one should be made to live or work.



1. Safety

Reception processes were good but many prisoners were not supported well enough on their first night. Too many prisoners felt unsafe and violence, particularly against staff, was very high. Perpetrators of violence faced few challenges or sanctions. Victims of violence were poorly supported. Use of force was exceptionally high. Conditions in the segregation unit were appalling and managerial oversight was weak. There was a lack of order and control on some wings. Drugs were easily available. A good local supply reduction plan was in place but was undermined by a lack of investment nationally. Levels of self-harm were high and prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm were not well supported. Outcomes for prisoners were poor.

Early days in custody

Reception staff and prisoner orderlies were welcoming but holding rooms were bland and provided little to occupy prisoners.

Initial safety interviews were now conducted in private and had a suitable focus on risk issues.

Shortages of prisoner kit meant some new arrivals were not issued with sufficient clothing and bedding. Too often new prisoners did not go to the dedicated first night unit as it held prisoners who could not be located elsewhere. Instead they were located wherever there was a space, and these cells were not well prepared. Wing staff were often unaware of new arrivals and did not routinely check on their welfare.

In our survey, less than half of prisoners said they felt safe on their first night.

Induction was adequate, but many prisoners did not attend all elements. Peer worker involvement was positive but was not overseen by staff.

Managing behaviour: Encouraging positive behaviour

In our survey two-thirds of prisoners said they had felt unsafe at some time and over one-third felt unsafe at the time of the inspection.

Recorded levels of assaults, when measured over 12 months, had increased significantly since the last inspection and were much higher than all but one local prison. Assaults on staff had risen sharply and were higher than at any other local prison.

Some detailed work had been undertaken to understand the causes of violence and a comprehensive safety strategy was in place, but there was no dynamic action plan to monitor actions to make the prison safer.

The Governor chaired the safer custody meeting which was well structured, but minutes showed a lack of engagement from some key areas.

The current prisoner violence reduction scheme was largely ineffective. There were few challenges or sanctions faced by perpetrators of violence beyond use of the incentives and earned privileges (IEP) and formal adjudications processes, which in themselves were not effective.

There was still no specific violence reduction strategy for young adults who were over-represented in violent incidents.

Support for victims of violence was inadequate.

Vulnerable prisoners located on the dedicated vulnerable prisoner wing received a reasonable regime but others located elsewhere across the prison were often intimidated by other prisoners and had a poor regime.

The IEP scheme was ineffective. It did too little to incentivise good behaviour and was applied inconsistently. Too many IEP reviews did not take place on time. Target setting for prisoners on the basic level of the scheme was poor. Some prisoners were given generic targets, and others no targets at all.

The adjudication system was not used effectively to tackle more serious concerns and challenge poor prisoner behaviour. Over the last six months only around one-third of adjudications had been completed. The prison had begun to address the dysfunctional process for police referrals.

Use of force

Use of force was very high, at four times that at the last inspection and almost three times that of similar prisons we have inspected. Baton use was high. We found numerous occasions where special accommodation was used but not recorded.

Although there was some analysis of available data to identify hotspots and trends, managerial oversight was insufficient and the use of force committee did not review videos or incident paperwork. Almost all dossiers were incomplete and none included an injury to prisoner form.


• Use of segregation was similar to last time and to that of other local prisons.

It was evident that the unit managed some extremely challenging behaviour, but it was chaotic and managerial oversight of both the unit and segregated prisoners on normal location was lacking. Recording of individual behaviour was poor and the daily occurrence log was rarely used.

The environment and conditions in the segregation unit and overspill landing were appalling. General areas and cells were dirty and in constant need of repair, toilets did not flush properly and some cell call alarms were inoperative. The regime for those currently on the unit was poor.

There was some evidence of previous reintegration of prisoners back onto normal location, but too many prisoners were transferred out of the prison without their issues being addressed.


The lack of order and control on some wings was a major concern. Staff struggled to contain an act of concerted indiscipline during our visit and we frequently observed periods where staff control was tenuous.

Dynamic security was poor and we witnessed little effective engagement from staff on some residential wings.

Intelligence was well managed and searching resulted in regular finds of drugs and other contraband, but too few searches and suspicion drug tests were completed.

The prison was focused on known and emerging threats, including organised gang activity, drug supply and associated debt. There was an appropriate focus on the risks posed by extremism.

• Almost half of all prisoners surveyed said it was easy to get illicit drugs and a fifth said they had developed a drug problem at Bedford. Random drug testing rates were at 27%. We regularly smelt cannabis and other substances being burnt throughout the prison. A supply reduction strategy and action plan was in place, but it was hampered by a lack of funding and investment in available technology.

Safeguarding: Suicide and self-harm protection

There had been five self-inflicted deaths since the previous inspection, the most recent a year ago. Progress against Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) recommendations was too slow and some actions had not been completed.

The number of incidents of self-harm had increased substantially since the previous inspection and was higher than in similar establishments.

ACCT processes (case management for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm) were weak. Initial assessments were mostly adequate but some care plans were missing or failed to address the issues of concern to prisoners. Many staff comments were observational rather than demonstrating quality interaction.

In our survey only a third of prisoners who had been subject to ACCTs felt cared for, and any care provided was severely undermined by poor living conditions and a lack of purposeful activity.

There were too few Listeners to meet the needs of the population and they were not available during the night.


2. Respect

Most staff were extremely inexperienced and struggled to exert their authority. Prisoners regularly and blatantly ignored rules and staff instructions – often without sanction or challenge. Living conditions were poor, often overcrowded, dirty and vermin-infested. Access to clean clothing and bedding was inadequate. Food and purchasing arrangements were reasonable overall. The number of complaints was high and too many were responded to too late or not at all. Equalities work was developing but too little was done to support most minority groups and outcomes for some disabled prisoners were particularly poor. Health care and substance misuse services were reasonable overall but mental health provision required improvement. Outcomes for prisoners were poor.

Staff-prisoner relationships

Staff-prisoner relationships had deteriorated since the last inspection and were of considerable concern.

The prison was managing a challenging, dynamic mix of prisoners, with a particularly inexperienced staff group. Seventy-seven per cent of available officers had less than one year’s experience and almost half of middle managers were temporarily promoted.

Staff at all levels were committed to their work and trying to do their best, but as a group they were out of their depth. This lack of experience was having a significant adverse impact on many aspects of prison life.

Some prisoners routinely and blatantly disregarded rules and appropriate standards of behaviour, without challenge. We frequently observed prisoners refusing to do as instructed by staff – and getting away with it. Poor supervision and control of prisoners created unacceptable risks.

Daily life Living conditions

Living conditions were poor. Common areas in most wings were not kept clean. A wing, in particular, was filthy. Despite recent attempts to control vermin, rats, pigeons and cockroaches were everywhere.

There were too few working showers in some wings. Many shower rooms were dirty and in poor physical condition. Some were decrepit.

Many cells were overcrowded and cramped. Cleanliness was variable and many cells were grubby and poorly decorated. Some toilets were dirty and many were poorly screened. There was much graffiti, some of it offensive.

Most cells had basic equipment such as kettles and TVs, although some had insufficient furniture. Some bunk beds were broken and a number had no ladders. Some cells had missing windows and many had broken, or blocked, observation panels.

There was a huge backlog of general repairs and maintenance. Many cells were vandalised and assessed as not fit for habitation, but we nevertheless found a prisoner located in one.

Laundry facilities were inadequate. Prisoners struggled to get access to essentials such as sufficient clean clothing. Towels and sheets were changed only every four weeks which was deplorable.

Residential services (catering and shop)

The food was of reasonable quality, although breakfast packs were meagre. Having the main meal at lunchtime was not popular. The kitchen, despite a period of severe understaffing, was well organised and standards of hygiene and cleaning were high, but non-core work such as consultation and special event menus had suffered.

The weekly small-item purchasing system worked well, but prisoners had to wait up to 10 days for their first full order which increased the likelihood of debt. The catalogue order system had improved, but many electrical items had been delayed for weeks awaiting testing.

Prisoner consultation, applications and redress

Prisoner consultation arrangements were adequate.

Until recently oversight of the applications process was poor. We were not assured applications were dealt with in a timely manner, or at all.

The number of complaints submitted was high. Too many responses were late and 12% in a recent three-month period had not been responded to.

Most complaint responses were adequate. However, some had not been properly investigated and apologies were not always offered when warranted.

Some complaints about staff were not always investigated by an appropriately senior or independent person.

Insufficient support was available to help prisoners with their legal needs.

Equality, diversity and faith

There was now an established pattern of equality meetings and protected characteristic forums. Our survey showed relatively few major differences in perception between minorities and others, although staff-prisoner relationships stood out as the one area where black and minority ethnic and Muslim prisoners had more negative perceptions than others.

There was good use of local data to look for evidence of inequity between different groups. However, there were, as yet, few real actions coming from the processes of consultation and analysis, except in a few cases such as the library.

There were prisoner equality representatives, and equality officers had been identified but were not yet active. The handling of discrimination incident reports had improved, but the quality of investigation was inconsistent.

Foreign nationals who spoke little English were disadvantaged by a lack of translated material and low use of telephone interpretation, and were at risk of being very isolated. Visiting immigration staff, whose visits were irregular, were the only source of information, though forums had been held.

Prisoners with disabilities were identified to some extent, but for those on the wings there were no care plans and insufficient attention to meeting their basic needs. A few with significant disabilities were living in very poor conditions.

A transgender prisoner was given reasonable care. No current prisoners had identified themselves as gay or bisexual. There was no positive affirmation of different sexual orientations to encourage openness.

There was no distinct provision either for under-21s or for older prisoners, though the latter were largely content with their treatment.

Faith and religion

• The chaplaincy team was now much stronger; it was well led and core tasks were carried out efficiently. Additional services were provided, such as bereavement counselling, yoga and some through-the gate work through faith channels. There was insufficient focus in the establishment on enabling worship sessions to start on time with full attendance.

Health, well-being and social care

Health care services had improved since our last inspection, but some concerns remained regarding mental health provision.

A range of primary care services was available, but the team was struggling to engage podiatry services which had been absent for four months. Waiting lists were acceptable for most clinics.

The confidential health complaints process was not routinely used by prisoners, and forms were not widely available. Prisoners had to ask wing staff and peer workers for health care application forms, which was inappropriate.

Inpatients received a good level of care from all staff and had good access to a range of activities.

One prisoner was receiving social care. Processes for referral and assessment were effective.

Medication administration on the main wings was poorly supervised by prison staff and was not confidential.

Dental facilities had improved since our last inspection, and the service was good.

A well-integrated mental health team offered a limited range of primary support, but lacked capacity to provide sufficient levels of therapeutic interventions. Secondary care was reasonable. Urgent referrals were seen promptly but routine referrals took too long to be assessed.

Overall provision for prisoners with substance misuse issues had improved, although only 55% of new arrivals requiring stabilisation were located on D wing, the designated drug treatment wing, which was unsatisfactory. Twenty-four-hour monitoring and observation was now taking place for most prisoners. Clinical care was good and we observed good joint working between clinical and psychosocial support services. Psychosocial support for prisoners with drug and alcohol problems had improved, and a third of all prisoners were engaged with the service. While one-to-one support was available to all, there was still limited access to group work for those not located on D wing.


3. Purposeful activity

Time unlocked was poor for most prisoners and when they were unlocked most had nothing purposeful to do. Library and PE services were adequate. The leadership and management of education, skills and work activity were inadequate. There were sufficient education, skills and work places for all prisoners to work at least part-time, but very few prisoners chose to attend. Far too many were unemployed. The range of provision was narrow and low level. The quality of provision, including teaching and learning, was inadequate and prisoners made too little progress. Too few prisoners completed their courses and gained a qualification. Outcomes for prisoners were poor.

Time out of cell

Time out of cell was poor and few prisoners used it constructively, mostly spending it on the wings with nothing purposeful to do.

A restricted regime had been in place for many months but there were often lengthy delays in locking and unlocking prisoners and moving them to activities.

The few prisoners who engaged in work, education and training had up to five and a half hours out of cell most week days. Most others had about two and a half hours.

Too many prisoners, around 39%, were locked in cells during the working day.

Library and PE

Access to the library was reasonable and facilities were good. An adequate range of materials was available but activities to promote literacy were too limited.

The gym was a well-equipped facility and the PE department offered a range of recreational PE activities, but nothing for older prisoners. We were not assured that access to PE was monitored for fairness.

Education, skills and work activities

Leadership and management of education, skills and work activities

Leaders and managers had made very slow progress in tackling the weaknesses identified at the last inspection. All of the past weaknesses remained, most notably prisoners’ low attendance and involvement in activities and induction, prisoners’ poor punctuality, and the narrow and low-level range of provision.

Further weaknesses at this inspection included some key aspects of teaching and learning which were still not good enough, a sharp fall in the number of prisoners attending initial skills assessments, and the low proportion of prisoners completing their courses and gaining qualifications.

The prison’s quality improvement arrangements were ineffective. Regular externally-led evaluations of purposeful activity provided thorough and accurate assessments about the quality of provision but ultimately charted a progressive decline in its effectiveness. Leaders’ strategic planning did not lead to clear or systematic action planning. The prison did not promote a culture which recognised education, work and skills as a means of rehabilitation.

There were enough activity places for all prisoners to attend work, training or education at least part time. But we found only around 20% of prisoners were engaged in any form of purposeful activity at any one time. Too many sentenced prisoners were not allocated to an activity and a third of prisoners were recorded as being unemployed.

The community rehabilitation company (CRC) had begun to provide prisoners with pre-release support to enter employment, training or education, but this was mostly  recent and poorly attended. The education provider had begun to provide some useful information advice and careers guidance. Prison managers did not gather meaningful or accurate data to monitor prisoners’ involvement in education, training or employment after release.

Quality of teaching learning and assessment

Teachers were professional, committed and resilient but were not all providing consistently effective teaching and learning. Teachers’ expectations of learners were not routinely high enough and there was a lack of challenge for prisoners generally.

Planning for individual learning was too often ineffective, not least because most teachers did not know routinely who was going to attend a class. The few instances of prisoners’ poor behaviour were not always managed well enough by teachers which led to low-level disruption of learning.

Prisoners were not all making enough progress in sessions observed or over time.

No specialist learning support was available to the substantial number of prisoners requiring it.

Personal development and behaviour

Prisoners’ behaviour in sessions observed had improved since the previous inspection but was still not consistently good. However, interactions observed between prisoners and with their teachers were generally positive and respectful.

Very few of the prisoners we interviewed valued their learning or believed it would enhance their prospects on release.

The accreditation of prisoners’ skills developed through work was poor.

Too few prisoners actually attended following enrolment on a course, and too many arrived at sessions determined to be sent back to the wings.

Achievements and outcomes for prisoner

Too many prisoners started but did not complete an accredited course or gain the qualification. This was particularly the case in full functional skills courses in English and mathematics, ESOL and employability. The relatively few prisoners who did complete an accredited course usually achieved their qualification.

Too many prisoners left the prison no more qualified or skilled for work than on entry to the prison.


4. Rehabilitation and release planning

Work with children and families was adequate. A majority of sentenced prisoners, including all high-risk prisoners, received regular and meaningful offender supervisor contact. However, the offender management of low- and medium-risk prisoners – about 40% – had effectively ceased because of staff shortages. Many prisoners did not have an up-to-date OASys. Home detention curfew (HDC) processes were not effectively managed. Prisoners struggled to progress and move on to other suitable prisons. Public protection arrangements were reasonably good. The need for housing and debt support was high but provision was too limited and too many prisoners were released homeless. Demand for release planning was high and resettlement needs were identified promptly on arrival, but there was no assurance they were met. Outcomes for prisoners were not sufficiently good.

Children, families and contact with the outside world

• There was a good new strategy document on children and family ties, but the level of delivery had reduced, with no parenting courses or family ‘craft box’ sessions. Children’s visits were held regularly, a cycle of quarterly family days had begun, and a community worker provided a valuable service for families of prisoners who lived locally.

• The visits hall, although of limited size, was well run, with good assistance from Ormiston Trust staff and volunteers. The environment was tired with fixed rigid furniture but with a good cafe and play facilities. Visits booking was now working reasonably well.

Reducing risk, rehabilitation and progression

Strategic management of reducing reoffending remained weak. The reducing reoffending strategy was thoughtful but aspirational and based on a limited needs analysis. The reducing reoffending committee rarely met and did not drive improvement. There was no action plan to monitor progress.

A lack of staff and experience undermined the work of the offender management unit (OMU). The CRC remained under-resourced and the two were not well integrated.

Those prisoners supervised by on-site probation officers (amounting to about 60% of sentenced prisoners), including all high-risk men, were well managed, and had regular, meaningful contact.

Uniformed offender supervisors were constantly cross-deployed which meant that about 40% of the OMU’s caseload, of low- and medium-risk prisoners, had little or no ongoing contact.

About 40% of all eligible prisoners did not have an up to date OASys assessment and many others had already transferred without an assessment to inform their move.

Basic, but critical, administrative tasks such as sentence calculation were not promptly completed, which frustrated prisoners and affected outcomes in areas like release planning.

HDC processes were not effectively managed. Some prisoners who should have been considered for HDC were not.

There was insufficient oversight to ensure the appropriate and prompt transfer and progression of sentenced prisoners.

Public protection

There was a regular interdepartmental risk management team (IRMT) meeting with an appropriate scope, but attendance from other departments was weak and high-risk prisoners were considered too close to release to allow time for remedial action.

There was good information exchange between community offender managers and on-site probation officers in most high-risk cases we looked at.

Mail and telephone monitoring arrangements were generally well managed and reviewed in a timely manner.


The introduction of the Reactiv8 programme (a sports-based approach to improve thinking skills) was very positive and suitably focused on a young and short-term population.

In our survey, significantly more prisoners than at other local prisons reported they needed help around finance, benefit and debt. Support from the CRC overall was too limited, but prisoners could now open bank accounts, which was an improvement.

There was high demand for help with accommodation. Despite the best efforts of the CRC, a third of prisoners with an identified accommodation need were released homeless. Remand prisoners who made up half of the population were not helped to find accommodation at all.

Release planning

Demand for resettlement services was very high, with about 90 prisoners released each month. Many prisoners stayed for a very short time – about 60% of the population had been at Bedford for three months or less.

CRC provision remained too limited. While initial resettlement plans were completed on time and appropriately identified need, too many prisoners did not have their plan reviewed prior to release to ensure that referrals and actions were completed.

The pre-release board, which was potentially extremely useful, was poorly attended and was not given sufficient priority by the prison.


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Related articles:

13/9/2018 Urgent Notification HMP Bedford

16/8/2018: Urgent Notification HMP Birmingham

30/5/2018: Urgent Notification HMP Exeter

17/1/2018: Urgent Notification HMP Nottingham

All Urgent Notifications, Responses & Action Plans

HMP Bedford Latest IMB Report (June 2017)

HMP Bedford: Ministerial Response (13 November 2017)

EXCLUSIVE! Prisoners Owe £2.25 million in Unpaid Prison Damage Compensation Orders.



Prisoners in England and Wales owe £2.25million to the taxpayer for damage caused to prisons and prison property.

Since a change to the Prison Rules that came into effect in November 2013, with Prison Service Instruction 31/2013, prisons in England and Wales have been able to impose a requirement that a prisoner pay compensation via a Damage Obligation Order (doo) for the destruction or damage they cause to prisons and prison property – and it allows prison Governors to take monies directly from a prisoner’s money account held at the prison to satisfy the compensation debt.

The compensation ordered to be paid has to be for the full value of the damage caused, up to a maximum of £2,000, and the debts last for a maximum of two years or until a prisoner’s sentence expires; whichever is the sooner and money cannot be collected past this point.

In recent times there have been reports of serious disturbances in a number of prisons across England and Wales.

In October 2016, a national response unit (Tornado riots teams) were brought into control prisoners in a wing at HMP Lewes, East Sussex.

In November 2016, there were reports of a riot involving 230 prisoners at HMP Bedford, and disturbances involving 40 prisoners at HMP Moorland in Yorkshire.

In December 2016, 240 prisoners had to be moved after a twelve hour riot at HMP Birmingham, and inmates reportedly took over part of Swaleside Prison on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales criticised the compensation orders as ‘unworkable’ when they were introduced by the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, saying that as the vast majority of prisoners have little or no money to pay any such compensation order with, the reality was that debts would simply continue to mount – and now evidence obtained from the Ministry of Justice shows that is exactly what has happened.

In March 2017 Mr Leech submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the MOJ asking for details of how much money remains unpaid by prisoners subject to a doo.

Despite the law requiring a response to the FOIA request within 28 days, it took 15 months of persistent questions before the MOJ finally released the information showing that, as of February 2017 when the FOIA Request was submitted, prisoners owed £2,250,000 in unpaid compensation for damage to prison property.

Mr Leech said: “Like so much of what Chris Grayling introduced during his time as Justice Secretary its barmy, his ridiculous banning of books to prisoners, his unnecessary restrictions on temporary licence release and home detention curfew – all of which have since been reversed – this is yet another policy failure that shows this was always more about political posturing than it was about actual policy delivery.

“The solution is not to impose uncollectible compensation orders on prisoners who can’t pay in a month of Sunday’s, but to make our prisons safe, secure, decent and humane so riots do not happen and the taxpayer is not left with a repair bill that realistically they can never collect.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “It is right that prisoners should reimburse taxpayers for damage caused to prison property wherever possible.

“The National Offender Management Service (NOMS), now known as Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), introduced the system of recovering monies from prisoners from 1 November 2013 through “damage obligation orders”.

“Following a finding of guilt on adjudication, a requirement to pay can be made for up to 100% of the damage caused, including labour costs. However the maximum must not exceed £2,000 and must never exceed the value of the damage caused.”

HMP Bedford – “Abject Failure Had Allowed A Decline to Unacceptable Standards” Say Inspectors

bedfordStandards at HMP Bedford had declined to unacceptable levels, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons, who said of Bedford that it was “hard to understand how such an abject failure to address our previous clear recommendations has been allowed to happen.”

Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the local prison.  HMP Bedford held 493 prisoners at the time of this inspection. At its previous inspection in February 2014, inspectors made 72 recommendations. On this more recent inspection, only 12 recommendations had been achieved and four partially achieved.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • although the prison knew where and when violent incidents were occurring, far too little was being done to analyse them and take effective action to reduce the violence;
  • the levels of self-harm had increased dramatically since the last inspection;
  • there had been self-inflicted deaths, but not all recommendations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman had been embedded into practice;
  • the ready availability of new psychoactive substances (NPS) was having a serious impact on safety but there was no effective drug supply reduction strategy in place;
  • the physical condition of the prison was poor, with many prisoners living in cramped conditions;
  • offender supervisors, who prepare prisoners for release, had infrequent contact with prisoners; and
  • delays in implementing the community rehabilitation company (CRC) arrangements meant resettlement arrangements were weak.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • most prisoners (79%) said staff treated them with respect; and
  • the food was rated good or very good by 43% of prisoners, more than double the figure in similar prisons, and PE facilities were good.

Peter Clarke said:
“This is a disappointing report. It is hard to understand how such an abject failure to address our previous clear recommendations has been allowed to happen. As a result, standards in the prison have declined to unacceptable levels. I am not suggesting that staff at HMP Bedford are not working hard – they clearly were, and some important things had been put in place to improve things in the future.

“The management of the prison is aware of the challenges they face but have not yet been able to address them. The lack of consistent leadership is unlikely to have helped. There had been four people fulfilling the role of governor since the last inspection in 2014. The responsibility to deliver on our recommendations lies mainly with the governor but there also has to be effective oversight at a national and regional level.”

Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook for England Wales said

“What we see at HMP Bedford from this shocking report is being seen across the prison system nationally; Bedford prison just brings it into sharp focus.

“The Chief Inspector is right to say staff at HMP Bedford are ‘clearly working hard’, but this about delivery not work rate; the Hamster on its wheel ‘works hard’.

“What we need are more staff, more resources and an end to the crazy policy of trying to get ever more prisoners to the pound.”

A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at:

HMP Bedford: Safe, well run, but more rehabiliation needed


HMP Bedford was a fairly safe and well run prison but it needed to do more to rehabilitate prisoners, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection of the local jail.

HMP Bedford is a small prison dating from the 19th century. At its last inspection in 2009, inspectors described a well run prison that tried to mitigate the risks it managed and was achieving some reasonable outcomes . This inspection has made similar judgements, although there had been some deterioration in the provision of work, education and training and resettlement services.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • most prisoners in Bedford said they felt safe;
  • most violent incidents were relatively minor and the prison collected useful data to support its strategies to reduce violence;
  • the management of those at risk of self-harm was generally good;
  • the strategy to restrict the supply of illicit drugs was reasonably effective;
  • relationships between staff and prisoners were a real strength;
  • much had been done to ensure the prison was reasonably clean, although some cells were damp and many were doubled up;
  • although the amount of time out of cell varied greatly among prisoners, the daily routine seemed to be delivered consistently;
  • overall the quality of learning and skills opportunities provided was good, but much work on offer was low skill and mundane; and
  • health care services were good.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • the prison was very overcrowded;
  • young adults were significantly over-represented in violent incidents and more needed to be done to understand and address this;
  • accountability for the use of force, of which there were a significant number of incidents, also required improvement;
  • there had tragically been four self-inflicted deaths since 2009 but inspectors were assured lessons had been learned from these incidents and that investigation action plans were being followed up;
  • accountability for the use of segregation and the routine in the segregation unit needed to be better, although staff worked well with the prisoners held there;
  • there was sufficient purposeful activity for only half the population, although the prison had sought to maximise the limited space available for providing activity places;
  • resettlement services and offender management were not well coordinated; and
  • public protection arrangements were very weak and required urgent attention.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Despite its problems Bedford is a fundamentally well run prison that importantly is both safe and respectful. The prison is confronted with many risks and operates in a less than ideal environment, but continues to use its available resources well. There is evidence of some improvements in learning and skills provision and the confidence with which staff relate to prisoners underpins much of its good work. Bedford’s main priority must be a clearer focus on its resettlement function and greater competence in the management of risk of harm reduction, sentence planning and structure to ensure effective public protection.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:

“I am pleased that the Chief Inspector acknowledges Bedford is performing well and provides a safe and respectful environment for the prisoners it holds. The Governor and his staff should be commended for their hard work in achieving this. They will now use the report to continue to make improvements.”

A copy of the report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: