HMP Bedford - strong leadership transforming 'dangerous' prison

Read the report: HMP Bedford

Inspectors to HMP Bedford, a category B local men’s prison with a resettlement function, found very promising progress and a sustained focus on improving change in the failing jail. Over the last three years the governor had developed a clear vision for HMP Bedford after the Urgent Notification was invoked in 2018, driving improvement in a prison that Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons, described as “dangerous, understaffed and dilapidated” at the time of the leadership change. Targets and measures were put in place to guide future success, and key priorities were communicated and understood by both staff and prisoners. This clear focus led inspectors to increase healthy prison scores by one point across every area.

However, despite considerable progress, levels of violence remained the highest in the country and although there was less use of force, many officers still failed to turn on their body-worn cameras during incidents, which was unacceptable. The under-25 population was overrepresented in statistics concerning poor behaviour and violence, but leaders had been proactive in trying to understand and support this group.

Purposeful activity, education and training had been prioritised. Prison leaders had worked effectively with education managers to implement a consistent approach, had successfully identified areas of weakness, and had formed clear improvement strategies. Purposeful activity places were plentiful, but a substantial majority were part-time and consisted of low-level work roles. Less than a third of places were in education and training and waiting lists were long.

The prison had worked to improve the experiences of black and minority ethnic prisoners, who made up just over 40% of the prison population at the time of the inspection.   Equality and diversity had been prioritised in the last 12 months, with the governor appointing a dedicated lead.

Despite the refurbishment of some cells, conditions in the prison continued to be unacceptable, particularly on A and B wings. Prisoners were sharing cramped cells designed for one person, while facilities and support for prisoners with disabilities were poor.

Mr Taylor said:

“The governor and his team should be proud of their achievements at HMP Bedford. There had been excellent progress, although outcomes for prisoners were not yet good enough in any of our healthy prison tests.

“Provided that the prison can retain the many effective staff members and the strong leadership team, there is good reason to believe that further, substantial improvements can be made, particularly in reducing violence and improving living conditions.”

Notes to editors

  1. Read the HMP Bedford report, published on 8 June 2022.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. HMP Bedford is a category B reception and resettlement prison for young adult and adult men.
  4. HMP Bedford has stood on its current site in the centre of Bedford since the early 19th century. It was enlarged in 1849 and in the early 1990s a new gate lodge, house block and health care centre were added. It mainly accepts prisoners from the local crown and magistrates’ courts.
  5. At the time of this inspection, the establishment held 359 prisoners.
  6. Inspectors identified 16 examples of notable positive practice.
  7. This inspection took place on 10 January and 21–24 February 2022.
  8. Please email Ed Owen at if you would like more information.