Bedford Prison

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:53 am on 13th September 2018.

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Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice 10:53 am, 13th September 2018

The chief inspector of prisons has spoken of the continual and unchecked decline in standards at the prison over the past nine years. He also said that, at times, it felt like the prisoners were in control. This is the prison with the highest rate of assaults in the country. Some 77% of prison officers at HMP Bedford have less than one year’s service.

That is the reality, so I am disappointed that, in his seven minutes, the Minister said a lot but avoided the specific question at hand on HMP Bedford. I thank my hon. Friend Mohammad Yasin for his tireless work on exposing the failings at the prison. As we have heard, this is the fourth jail in just 12 months to be issued an urgent notification. Formally, the Minister has to publish a plan of action for the prison within 28 days, but we need answers today.

The Government’s recent solution to the widespread failure at HMP Birmingham was to increase prison staff and reduce prisoner numbers there. Will the Minister commit today to a similar increase in staff and reduction in prisoner numbers at Bedford? There was a riot at Bedford in November 2016. What have the Government done since to improve the situation, bearing in mind what the chief inspector of prisons has said?

Whose fault is it that in the latest annual performance figures, HMP Bedford is still labelled as a prison of serious concern? It remains one of the most overcrowded prisons in the country—40% over capacity. What has the Minister done, and what have the Government done, to tackle overcrowding there since the 2016 riot?

More widely, what plans do the Government have to end overcrowding across the prison estate, given that over half of prisons are overcrowded? The proportion, by the way—people on the Government Benches will not like to hear this—is even higher in private prisons. Finally, if more staff and fewer prisoners was the answer to HMP Birmingham’s problems, will the Minister commit today to an emergency plan, with new Treasury funds, to end overcrowding and end understaffing across the prison estate?