A LACK of basic items such as pillows and toilet roll helped spark last year’s riot at Bedford Prison, according to a report published yesterday.
Prisoners there — who were locked up for up to 23 hours a day — were suffering from “chronic shortages” of clean bedding and toiletries, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) said in its report covering June 2016 to June this year.
Improvements have been made since the riot involving about 150 inmates in November but concerns remain, the inspectors added. Prison Officers Association Bedford area representative and national executive member Ian Carson told the Star that the role of the in-house “cleaning officer” was eradicated through benchmarking five years ago.
Since then there has been a “huge shift” in the purchasing of basic items and distribution among prisoners, he added. Now the job is outsourced to private companies, Mr Carson said.
Prisons can often run short of supplies that need to be picked up from the provider as outsourcing contracts don’t cover delivery.
Mr Carson, who used to be a cleaning officer, had been told by a prisoner three years ago that he was going to strip and walk down the corridors of the prison in protest as he had not been given a clean pair of trousers for two weeks.
He continued: “You can just imagine how that would make you feel. If that goes on for several days, or even weeks, then it doesn’t say much about how we are treating people that we are locking up.
“It has been absolutely horrendous over the last five years. Getting hold of clean kit has historically been a problem, but now it’s worse. The outsourcing has also disempowered staff because if they don’t have any clean kit, then there’s nothing they can do. Before, the cleaning officers could take the dirty kit to the laundry rooms. But those officers are no longer there.”
Mr Carson agreed that shortages of basic items are linked to increased violence.
Violence among prisoners has risen by 50 per cent, the IMB report said, and assaults on staff are more than double the national rate.
IMB chairman Kevin Whiteside said: “Chronic understaffing was exacerbated by poor systems and a lack of clear strategies.”
The Ministry of Justice said it was “tackling the challenges head-on.”