HMIP Inspection of Lewes

The prison was last inspected December 2015/January 2016, 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/YOI Lewes is a medium sized local prison with an uncrowded capacity of 617. At the time of the inspection it held just over 640 prisoners, including a substantial number awaiting trial or sentence. A third of the population were convicted of sexual offences, many with long or indeterminate sentences, and about 15% were in the last three months of their sentence and located at Lewes for pre-release resettlement support. As with other establishments, the number of older prisoners was rising and there was also a significant population of young adults.

This complex mix presented considerable challenges and risks, exemplified by the first night centre. Sex offenders were held there because there was nowhere else to put them, and this meant that other new arrivals were placed wherever a space could be found in the prison. Some were even placed in the segregation unit, which is a particularly inappropriate location for someone new to prison. Most staff on other units were unaware of who the new arrivals were and could not therefore provide first night support and monitoring. Moreover, during our night visit, we found that some staff did not have anti-ligature knives and could not assure us that they would act appropriately in the event of a serious self-harm incident. This was in the context of over a quarter of prisoners in our survey reporting feeling depressed or suicidal on arrival, and a third saying they had mental health problems.

Levels of violence and use of force were high and oversight of both was poor. Although we have seen rising violence in most prisons inspected over the last year, at Lewes the number of assaults was even higher than at other establishments recently inspected. However, the general picture on violence was complex and needed careful analysis; prisoners reported feeling relatively safe and selfharm was also lower than we see in other prisons. The safer custody structures that could have helped to understand and address such findings were lacking; violence reduction procedures were not being implemented and safer custody staff had no time to undertake the role.

Most of the prison was clean and in good condition – a considerable achievement given that it was over 160 years old. Good relationships between staff and prisoners, many of whom were from the local area, were a strength that underpinned much of the positive work in the prison. The reassurance provided by the experienced staff group may help to explain why prisoners felt safe despite the high levels of violence. Health care was reasonably good but far too many external hospital appointments were missed as a result of a lack of escort staff. The increased number of hospital visits reflected the rise in older prisoners, approximately 10% of whom were over 60, more than double the figure at the last inspection. The oldest prisoner was over 90. However, despite creditable work by paid carers, provision for older and disabled prisoners was inadequate. Overall arrangements for equality and diversity were also poor. There was little systematic support for prisoners with protected characteristics and those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and foreign national prisoners were much more negative than others about their treatment.

Purposeful activity outcomes had dipped since the last inspection, although they were improving. More short education courses were provided, which better met the needs of many prisoners, and completion and success rates on short courses and in vocational training were high. The library was well run and access to PE was good. However, far too many prisoners were still without purposeful activity. Despite a very recently introduced new regime, on some units people were routinely locked up for 23 hours and we found half of the population in their cells during our spot checks over the course of the working day. There were not enough activity places and some of the available places were unused.

Strategic oversight of resettlement was reasonable but a whole-prison approach to offender management was lacking; far from recognising the importance of offender management, some residential staff referred to offender supervisors disparagingly as ‘file huggers’. The prison had developed good relationships with the community rehabilitation company (CRC), and these arrangements were among the best that we have so far seen. In our survey, more prisoners than at other prisons said they had done something to make them less likely to offend in future. An ongoing challenge for the prison was to deal with the significant increase in the number of sex offenders. They stayed at the prison for too long without doing suitable offending behaviour work.

This report describes a prison with a number of strengths, especially its good staff-prisoner relationships, which mitigated, to a degree, other weaknesses. The CRC arrangements were encouraging and, despite the prison’s considerable age, the environment was generally decent. The prison has four principal challenges going forward: a consistent first night process was needed for all prisoners, wherever they were held, supported by proper training of night staff to assure the safety of all prisoners. The high level of assaults demanded more systematic and focused violence reduction analysis and actions. The needs of minority groups, especially the large number of disabled and older prisoners, needed to be better addressed. Finally, improved access to purposeful activity was necessary with efficient use of the available spaces. Addressing these concerns will help the prison to build on the undoubted good work of many of its staff.

Martin Lomas                                    February 2016

HM Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Lewes 

To read the full reports follow the links below

  • 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)