HMIP Inspection of Lewes

The prison was last inspected January 2019, and the full reports can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In the latest report the inspectors said:

HMP Lewes is a medium-sized category B local prison. At the time of this inspection it held around 580 male prisoners, both sentenced and on remand. The prison was last inspected in January 2016. On that occasion we found it to be reasonably good in the areas of respect and resettlement, and not sufficiently good in the areas of safety and purposeful activity.

Unfortunately, the findings of this inspection were deeply troubling and indicative of systemic failure within the prison service. HM Inspectorate of Prisons found that in three areas – respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning – there had been a decline in performance to such an extent that they all attracted a lower assessment than at the last inspection. In the fourth area, the key one of safety, although performance was not so poor as to drag the assessment to the lowest possible level, it was undoubtedly heading in that direction, unless in the near future there was to be decisive intervention to halt the decline in standards. A good start would be if the findings of this inspection were to be taken more seriously than has been the case in the past. We found that in the three years since the last inspection, a mere 10 out of the 54 recommendations we made on that occasion had been fully achieved. Our experience as an inspectorate is that prisons which pay so little attention to inspection findings will inevitably fail to improve.

What makes the decline at Lewes even more difficult to understand is the fact that two years ago HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) put the prison into what it described as ‘special measures’. I have examined the ‘Improving Lewes (Special Measures) Action Plan’ agreed with senior HMPPS management in August 2018. However, of the 45 action points in the plan, 39 had not been completed and the majority were described as requiring ‘major development’. There were over 50 references to reviewing activity in the plan, but a noticeable dearth of hard targets. The results of this inspection clearly showed that, far from delivering better outcomes, two years of ‘special measures’ had coincided with a serious decline in performance. In short, unless in the future HMP Lewes benefits from strong leadership and a realistic action plan focused on delivering clear, measurable outcomes, it is highly likely that the use of the Urgent Notification procedure will have to be considered at some point.

 In terms of safety, there was a great deal of urgent work to be done. Since the last inspection there had been five self-inflicted deaths, and incidents of self-harm had tripled. Meanwhile, there had been an inadequate response to recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) in response to those deaths. While levels of violence were broadly similar to those we saw at the last inspection, assaults against staff had risen and a quarter of prisoners felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. There was a backlog of investigations into acts of violence, a situation that clearly inhibited the ability of the prison to take a more informed and proactive approach to violence reduction.

The availability of illicit drugs undoubtedly sat behind much of the violence. Fifty-nine per cent of prisoners told us it was easy to get hold of drugs in the prison, and 14% had acquired a drug habit after entering the jail. Despite this, the devices to detect contraband and drugs had not been working since April 2018, and I was told this was because of ‘procurement’ difficulties. If ‘special measures’ was intended to help the prison overcome this type of bureaucratic obstacle, it had failed.

 Despite the many weaknesses we found in the performance of the prison, it is notable that 78% of prisoners told us that staff treated them with respect. This was an unusually high figure for this type of prison, and added weight to the notion that the problems at Lewes were not insoluble, but did require significant management intervention. For instance, this report sets out very real weaknesses in the leadership and management of health care in the prison, and also in the provision of sufficient activity for the prisoners. Our colleagues from Ofsted were clear in their view that there was no clear strategy for the delivery of learning and skills, and indeed allocation to activities appeared to be  a matter of luck. During the inspection I saw workshops and classrooms where attendance was very poor, and it was clear that there was insufficient attention being paid to getting prisoners into activities. As a result, while time out of cell was good for those attending activities, it was not so good for those not attending, and we found 40% of prisoners locked in their cells during the working day.

A similar picture emerged in the area of rehabilitation and release planning, where a lack of leadership meant that there was weak strategic management, and the reducing reoffending strategy was out of date. Notably, only one of nine recommendations made in this area at the last inspection had been fully achieved.

 Overall, this was a very disappointing inspection. I would recommend readers to look carefully at the detail contained in this report, as it brings into question the utility of ‘special measures’ if a prison can decline so badly when supposedly benefitting from them for a full two years. It also validates the Inspectorate’s new Independent Reviews of Progress, which are specifically designed to give ministers a report of progress against previous inspection reports at struggling prisons such as Lewes. A new governor had taken up post shortly before this inspection, and she will need support from her own management team and from more senior levels in HMPPS if the decline at HMP Lewes is to be arrested and reversed.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                              March 2019

HM Chief Inspector of Prison

Return to Lewes 

To read the full reports follow the links below

  • HMP Lewes (859.57 kB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Lewes (14, 21-25 January 2019)
  • HMP Lewes (PDF, 1.33 MB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Lewes (14-15 December 2015; 4-8 January 2016)
  • HMP/YOI Lewes, Unannounced inspection of HMP/YOI Lewes (5-16 November 2012)
  • HMP Lewes, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP Lewes (4–6 May 2010)
  • HMP Lewes, Announced inspection of HMP Lewes (20-24 August 2007)