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Magistrates appeal to reduce quality of the diet at Bedford County Gaol - 1851

In 1851 the Bedford magistrates asked the Home Secretary to allow them to give a lower quality diet to the prisoners in Bedford County Gaol in an attempt to save money. They maintained that prisoners preferred the diet in the gaol to that in the Union Workhouse and even suggested that some prisoners were committing petty offences to get the 'better food' in the gaol. A Captain Williams was sent by the Home Secretary to compare the diet in the two institutions.

QGV2/6 1851 Report of Captain Williams:

Tables No. 1 and 2 of the prison dietaries, which extend to twenty-one days imprisonment, are infinitely below that of the union, although the latter is so framed as not to offer any inducement to the able-bodied to remain there when work is to be got. In the Bedford Union the able-bodied men work at a crank labour machine which is applied to the grinding of corn. It has been frequently stated that the paupers prefer Bedford jail to the Union, but all my inquiries tend to prove the very reverse of this assertion. I examined separately every prisoner in the gaol and house of correction, to the number of sixteen, who had been in the Union workhouses, and with one solitary exception they all expressed their decided preference of the workhouse to the prison.

The magistrates in thus pressing for diminution of the food allowed to prisoners appear to consider the diet as the sole penal element in the separate system, and that its success or failure is wholly dependent thereon, but the very reverse is the case. The efficacy of the discipline mainly depends upon the complete isolation of the prisoners, the compulsory hard labour in solitude, the only interruption being the time given for devotion and moral and religious instructions, the visits of the medical and discipline officers. Experience has proved that under such depressing circumstances the quantity and quality of the prisoners' food should be larger and even more nutritious than when in association. I beg not to be understood as advocating the issue of more food for prisoners than is absolutely necessary for their maintenance in health while in jail, and their physical fitness for labour on their discharge.

The grievous results arising from the withholding of a sufficient supply of food from prisoners are still deeply impressed upon my memory, by the many instances witnessed in my earlier labours as Inspector of Prisons but perhaps no more striking case is afforded than in the Bedfordshire prisons when formerly scurvy, typhus, ague and the whole train of low diseases, which invariably follow depression of the mind and body, prevailed for a series of years, and did not wholly disappear until the occupation of the new building.

As a result of his report the diet as recommended by the Home Secretary was maintained.