It is a pleasure to follow Vicky Ford. In September, HMP Bedford became the fourth jail in a year to be issued an urgent notification. The prison has the highest rate of assaults in the country. Prison officers may not be allowed to strike under the law, but they are certainly protesting with their feet. So bad are the recruitment and retention problems in our prisons that, at HMP Bedford alone, some 77% of prison officers have less than one year of service. The cuts that led to the loss of about 10% of prison officers have resulted in an increase in violence of more than 250%. How can a Government who claim to be concerned about the level of violence in our prisons continue to fail to do their basic legal duty to protect staff and to ensure a safe working environment?
Prison officers do not go into work to be attacked and the courts do not send people to prison to be assaulted. The level of self-harm and drug addiction and suicide and reoffending rates among prisoners have reached record levels. The public expect prisoners to be rehabilitated and reformed so that, when they come out, they are not a danger to society. How can that happen when conditions are so poor?
The decline in HMP Bedford since 2010 is set out in the shocking inspection reports that led to the urgent notification last year. I am committed to building on the positive relationship that I have with the staff and management at the prison, who I know are working hard and doing their best in challenging circumstances.