HMP Lowdham Grange, HMIP inspections

The inspectors visited the prison for a full inspection in June 2015. In his report the inspector said in his report:

Located in the East Midlands, not far from Nottingham, HMP Lowdham Grange is a training prison holding just over 900 adult male prisoners. Operated by the private provider SERCO, in recent years the function of the establishment has changed so that it now holds longer-term category B prisoners from across the country. Many of Lowdham’s prisoners have committed serious offences; two-thirds are over the age of 30 and nearly all are serving sentences of more than four years. Over 40% of the population are serving indeterminate sentences, and more than 100 are serving life sentences.

We last inspected Lowdham Grange in 2011 when we commended the prison as an impressively safe, decent and purposeful place. The prison benefits from a number of significant advantages, not least having a mature, long-term and settled population. At this inspection we found that overall the prison continued to ensure some very positive outcomes for those held. The exception was safety which had deteriorated and the prison had yet to deal effectively with the levels of violence.

Lowdham Grange is a modern establishment which opened in 1998. It was clean, spacious and the grounds were very well maintained. Cellular accommodation was among the best we have inspected and access to services and amenities was very good. In keeping with a number of privately run establishments, the application of technology brought some significant benefits such as in cell telephones and automated wing kiosks for the management of general applications and other administrative tasks. A peer-led prisoner advice line was functioning well and had, in our view, the potential to be an example of good practice.

We observed good relationships between staff and prisoners, although the responses to our survey showed some negative perceptions among prisoners. Despite a settled population the quality of personal officer work was limited and disappointing. Formal consultation with prisoners was, however, better, as was the promotion of equality, which was given high priority in the prison. Work to support minorities was reasonably well structured and the prison had retained a full-time equalities officer, which we now see less frequently. Prisoner equalities representatives were also deployed to help promote this work.

Prisoners lacked confidence in the way in which formal complaints were dealt, but large numbers were still submitted. Our own assessment identified shortcomings in processes and management. Legal services provision was better. Some aspects of health provision required improvement and lacked the confidence of prisoners. Work to support prisoners with mental health needs was good.

Prisoners had good access to time out of cell and the majority were engaged in purposeful activity during the working day. The management and development of education, work and training was effective, with a clear focus on quality improvement. There was sufficient activity for all with a good range of work and training opportunities available. Prisoners were inducted well into learning and had good opportunities to achieve accredited qualifications. Teaching and coaching was good and achievement rates were generally high. The prison provided a well organised and accessible library and some aspects of PE provision were outstanding. Behaviour management, punctuality and attendance were all good and reflected a positive and purposeful culture in, and towards, work and learning.

The many positive and encouraging features we found at Lowdham Grange made our findings in safety all the more concerning and surprising. Simply put, the prison was not safe enough and safety generally, had deteriorated. Prisoners arriving from across the country were received well in the prison, but nearly half of respondents to our survey said they had felt unsafe at Lowdham and a quarter felt unsafe in the prison during the inspection. Levels of violence between prisoners and towards staff were high and too much of it was serious. Work to analyse, confront and reduce violence was taking place within the prison, with drug and debt issues identified as potential sources of the problem. We were however, unable to establish the effectiveness of this prevention work.

Some security measures were, in our view, applied crudely and disproportionately, particularly regarding incentives and earned privileges (IEP). The IEP scheme was applied rigidly and in a counterproductive manner that arguably undermined well being and discouraged incentive towards commitment and positive behaviour. Evidence of hooch and synthetic drugs was prevalent and in our survey prisoners suggested the widespread availability of such substances.

The use of disciplinary procedures had nearly doubled since the last inspection and use of force was both high and higher than at comparable prisons. The application of full restraint techniques and special accommodation was similarly high. We were not assured that use of force or the use of special accommodation was always fully justified or warranted and not all incidents were de-escalated as quickly as they might have been. The use of special accommodation and mechanical restraints on those in self-harm crisis was wrong and alternatives should be sought immediately.

About one in 10 of the significant number of prisoners who had been segregated were experiencing self-harm. Such prisoners should only be held in segregation in exceptional circumstances. Generally levels of self-harm had risen and were higher than at comparable prisons. Those in crisis cited debt-related bullying as a trigger to their self-harm. Good multidisciplinary structures were in place to support and monitor those in crisis and case management support was also reasonably good.

Peer support was available for all, except those who were segregated, but generally care was good. Adult safeguarding work was developing, although work with the local authority and the integration of responses needed to be tighter.

A strength of the prison was its very good approach to resettlement and offender management. Reducing reoffending was underpinned by a useful assessment of need, and arrangements were well managed. The prisons offender management team were experienced, interested and knowledgeable about their caseload and worked well with what were a very high-risk group of offenders. Assessments and sentence plans were reasonable and up-to-date, and contact and support was evident. There was a useful range of offending behaviour interventions available and public protection work was sufficiently robust. Very few prisoners were discharged from the prison but prisoners were effectively encouraged to progress through their sentences. Those who were discharged received good support, although not yet from the new Community Rehabilitation Companies –responsible for work with medium- and low-risk offenders in custody and on release since May 2015 – who should be taking this provision forward.

Lowdham Grange is an effective prison that is undoubtedly doing some meaningful work with longterm, high-risk offenders. The prison has many good features and the very positive approach to work and learning, as well as risk of harm reduction, is commendable. Prisoners are being helped to progress through their sentence. The lack of safety in the prison is at odds with the other strengths of the prison, but the statistics speak for themselves. The prison has not been inactive in trying to deal with these problems but there is evidence to suggest that some of its responses have been reactive and unsophisticated. More work needs to be done at wing level to support the rehabilitation work of the prison and to encourage prisoners by incentivising them and continuing to support them as they are reconciled to the long sentences they face.

Nick Hardwick September 2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

To read the full report go to the Ministry of Justice web site


This section contains the reports for Lowdham Grange from 2004 until present