Are you OK with cookies?

We use small files called ‘cookies’ on Some are essential to make the site work, some help us to understand how we can improve your experience, and some are set by third parties. You can choose to turn off the non-essential cookies. Which cookies are you happy for us to use?

Skip to content

“Neglected” Bedford jail will need sustained support to improve after full inspection report details some of the worst conditions inspectors have seen

A report on Bedford prison published today reveals the full scale of problems that led HM Chief Inspector of Prisons to write to the Secretary of State for Justice in November to invoke an Urgent Notification about the state of the jail.

An inner-city, Victorian reception prison, Bedford held prisoners in some of the worst conditions inspectors have seen. Filthy floors and serveries compounded the overcrowded conditions in which most prisoners were held, while many cells had broken furniture and windows and were covered in graffiti. Some cells were damp and had problems with mould, and on days of heavy rain the segregation unit ran with sewage. The jail was also battling infestations with rats and cockroaches.

“Some of the accommodation in Bedford was the worst I have seen. The smell of mould in one cell was overpowering, with the walls damp to the touch, while the underground segregation unit, which held acutely mentally unwell men, was a disgrace. If our prisons are truly going to protect the public, then they must be able to play their part in supporting men and women to move on from offending. Penning people in squalor for 23 hours a day with no meaningful access to education, training or work, or to fresh air or exercise is not going to achieve that, as the levels of violence and self-harm at Bedford attest.”
Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Inspectors were particularly concerned about the increase in levels of self-harm and the fragility of the support for the most vulnerable prisoners, particularly as there had been a serious deterioration in mental health services. Levels of violence remained very high, particularly assaults on staff which were among the highest in the country. Much of this was the result of the limited time that prisoners had out of cell to escape their terrible living conditions in the fresh air and with anything meaningful to occupy their time. Inspectors also branded the applications and complaints systems “disastrous”, with prisoners finding it impossible to get questions answered or problems solved. Concerningly, particularly given reports of direct racism by staff, discrimination incident reports were also poorly managed with 40 being replied to late and many failing to address the concerns raised.

Thirty percent of prisoners were released homeless, making it virtually impossible to break the cycle of mental health difficulties, drug taking, crime and imprisonment.

The governor of Bedford, who had been in post since January 2023, understood the scale of the problems at the jail and was having to rebuild her leadership team in response to complicated personnel challenges. But inspectors did not think that she was visible enough around the prison wings where conditions had deteriorated sharply since the last inspection.

“While we left Bedford very concerned about the ongoing problems at the jail, there were many hardworking staff doing their best in difficult conditions. The governor and her team will need considerable support from the prison service to achieve what will be a difficult and lengthy transformation of a neglected prison.”
Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons


  1. Read a copy of the full report, published on 14 February 2023.
  2. This inspection took place between 30 October and 9 November 2023.
  3. The Urgent Notification process was introduced in 2017 and is a means of raising immediate, urgent concerns following an inspection which requires a response and action plan from the Secretary of State within 28 days. A full report from the inspection is still published in the normal timeframe of within 14 weeks of the inspection. The Urgent Notification is supported by the evidence of the debrief from the inspection, which is presented to the governor, and which outlines the key issues which will be explored in more detail in the full report once published.
  4. Read the letter and inspection debrief sent to the Secretary of State on 15 November and the Secretary of State’s response.
  5. We invoke an Urgent Notification by writing to the Secretary of State for Justice within seven calendar days of completing an inspection setting out our concerns. We also tell the governor of the prison that we are doing so. The Secretary of State then has 28 days following publication of the Urgent Notification to reply to us setting out an action plan of improvement. Find out more about Urgent Notifications.
  6. The inspection team assess the establishment’s performance against the applicable healthy establishment tests using the following judgements. 4 – outcomes for prisoners are good, 3 – outcomes for prisoners are reasonably good, 2 – outcomes for prisoners are not sufficiently good and 1 – outcomes for prisoners are poor. In this inspection, the scores were Safety 1, Respect 1, Purposeful activity 1, Preparation for release 2.
  7. This is the largest number of urgent notifications that have been issued within a 12-month period since the urgent notification protocol was introduced in 2017. Of the five establishments issued with a UN over the past year, Bedford was the third reception prison, and all three have previously received UNs. Bedford previously received a UN in 2018. The two remaining establishments were Woodhill, a Category B prison, and Cookham Wood, a Young Offender Institution.
  8. 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.
  9. Please email if you would like more information.