An inmate at a vermin-infested prison was spotted catching and killing rats in his cell during an inspection, a report has revealed.
A report following an inspection of HMP Bedford found that cells were “filthy and decrepit”, with toilets that don’t flush properly and a rat infestation.
The report found high levels of violence, with daily assaults on staff, and the use of force by staff was “exceptionally high”.
Nearly half of prisoners felt unsafe, including 49% on their first night, while almost half of prisoners surveyed said it was easy to get illicit drugs, and a fifth said that they had developed a drug problem while in the prison.
The smell of cannabis and other burning substances pervaded some wings, the report said, with one officer saying: “If it’s just cannabis, it’s a good day.”
So troubling were the findings of the unannounced inspection in August and September 2018, published in the report on Tuesday, that Peter Clarke, chief inspector of prisons, took the rare step of invoking the “urgent notification” protocol, which required the Secretary of State for Justice to respond publicly with an improvement action plan.
Mr Clarke found no credible plans by the prison or HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) to address the prison’s “dangerous shortcomings”.
His report found that standards had continued to decline despite two years of internal prison service efforts to improve it.
HMP Bedford was hit by a riot in November 2016 which reportedly caused £1 million of damage.
Mr Clarke said: “This inspection found that the prison has continued on a seemingly inexorable decline that is evident through the results of the four inspections carried out since 2009.
“It used to have a reputation as a good local prison, and the collapse in standards is as sad as it is inexcusable.”
According to Tuesday’s report, only one comparable local prison, Birmingham, had higher overall rates of violence, and that Bedford had the highest rate of assaults on staff.
Violent prisoners faced few effective sanctions, the report said, adding that use of force by staff, including baton use, had risen significantly and was “exceptionally high”.
Pest control work had failed to eradicate significant rat infestation, the report found.
One notice on a door said “Please ensure doors remain shut to prevent rats entering the wing!!!” and conditions in the segregation unit were described as “appalling”.
One amputee was in a cell with no adaptations, with a wheelchair which could not be user-propelled, and told inspectors that he had had only five showers so far in 2018.
Michael Spurr, chief executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, said HMP Bedford had faced “significant challenges” since the 2016 riot.
He said: “That’s why we had already reduced prisoner numbers, set out an improvement plan and provided extra, external support.
“We have not ignored previous recommendations, but pressures on the prison meant that progress had been difficult.
“Since the inspection, we have reduced prisoner numbers further, improved cleanliness and strengthened the management team to provide greater support to staff who the chief inspector acknowledges were committed but inexperienced.
“We have also appointed a new, more experienced governor to spearhead this work and accelerate improvements.”
Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said: “I take the inspectorate’s findings very seriously. I visited Bedford prison last week to follow up on the recommendations in the report.
“I’m glad to say that there has been significant progress at Bedford to make it safer and more decent. But we have more to do.”
He said increased security is in place to help reduce drug use and violence, and inexperienced staff are being given extra training.