A six-hour riot at a Bedfordshire prison broke out after inmates were locked in their cells for 23 hours a day without soap or toilet paper, according to a damning report. HMP Bedford’s independent monitoring board said the jail was turned into a “sad picture of devastation” by the unrest. Inmates’ frustration over “disgraceful conditions” caused two wings at the category B prison to be “totally trashed”, with broken furniture and doors, and a ruined segregation unit.
‘We Need to Be Treated Like Human Beings’
The report said HMP Bedford’s failure to provide inmates with basic provisions contributed to the rioting, in November last year. Investigators said only the library was left intact while the rest of the facility was “pulled to bits” and one inmate left handwritten notes which read, “This was caused by 23-hour lock up” and “We need to be treated like human beings”.
The report identified a catalogue of failures in the weeks preceding the unrest. The jail had reached its capacity of 508 inmates, but only 55 officers – half of the number needed – were available for duty. With a reduced workforce, the prison imposed a “limited regime” where inmates were denied education, drug treatment courses and medical appointments.
“This was not treating prisoners fairly,” says the report. “It led to a riot. Are prisoners treated humanely? Prior to the riot of November, 2016, the answer was no.
“The inability to provide basic items such as soap, cleaning materials and toilet paper was a disgrace. At one stage prisoners in A-wing had to wait four weeks for letters to be sent home because of a shortage of envelopes.
“New prisoners did not always have pillows. There can be no excuse for this.”
The IMB said it had expressed concerns over resources in last year’s annual report and there had been a sharp increase in the number of complaints from prisoners, who had become “increasingly angry and frustrated”.
Limited staff were overwhelmed as conditions deteriorated, with “unacceptably dirty” conditions, including cockroaches and pigeon waste.
The report said prisoners’ frustration boiled over, and when they were let out of their cells on a Sunday afternoon, they armed themselves with improvised weapons, lit fires and raided offices. It took six hours for 120 officers from the National Tactical Response Group to restore order.
‘Transforming Prisons into Places of Safety and Reform’
The IMB has called on the government to ensure that all prisons have “sufficient staff to run decent and humane regimes”.
A Prison Service spokesperson said: “Transforming prisons into places of safety and reform is our top priority and we are tackling the challenges we face head-on,” a spokesperson added.
“Across the estate, we are investing £1.3bn to modernise the prisons, and £100m to significantly boost the front line by 2,500 additional prison officers.
“We are on track to meet our recruitment targets and recently saw a net increase of 868 prison officers since January this year.”