HMP Lowdham Grange, HMIP inspections

The inspectors visited the prison for an inspection in Jaunary 2021 In his report the inspector said in his report:

“This report presents the findings of our scrutiny visit to HMP Lowdham Grange and the conditions and treatment of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lowdham Grange is a category B prison located near Nottingham and is privately managed by Serco. The prison is part of the long-term high security estate and at the time of our visit held around 880 prisoners, the majority of whom were serving sentences of 10 years or more.

We found a well-led prison that had faced some considerable challenges during the pandemic, including a serious outbreak of   COVID-19 in late September 2020 in which nearly 200 prisoners and 160 staff had tested positive for the virus. One prisoner subsequently died with COVID-19-related symptoms. This outbreak was one of the biggest in a prison at that time. The leadership team had worked effectively in partnership with health care providers and an outbreak control team, which included the NHS and Public Health England (PHE), to bring it under control. Arrangements to have all prisoners and staff tested were introduced promptly to support a local track-and-trace scheme to isolate asymptomatic cases. Prison leaders  had identified lessons to be learned from the outbreak and had taken a robust approach to minimising the risks of transmission, which meant that a smaller outbreak shortly before our visit was well managed and swiftly contained.

Communication with staff and prisoners about the current restrictions was effective and social distancing was well promoted. The prison had invested in technology such as proximity sensors to alert staff who inadvertently breached distancing protocols. Further innovative use of technology to normalise prison life was being trialled at the time of our visit and showed promise. In addition to testing of new prisoner arrivals, staff were offered weekly COVID-19 testing, and all wore fluid-resistant face masks.

Frontline staff were clearly visible when cells were unlocked, and we observed good relationships between staff and prisoners. This was reflected in our survey in which 79% of prisoners said staff treated them with respect. However, while the prison’s data recorded that violence between prisoners had reduced between July and December 2020, compared with the same period in 2019, violence towards staff had increased. Leaders felt that this was due to growing frustration withregime restrictions, although there had been no detailed analysis to understand the causes.  Living conditions were reasonable and there was a programme to improve the flooring on the older units. Nearly all cells contained telephones and many also had integral showers.

Work to promote equality had continued throughout the pandemic period, although a promising race equality taskforce, established as a response to wider concerns raised by prisoners around Black Lives Matter, had to be suspended due to the September outbreak of COVID-19.

 Health care provision was reasonably good and partnership working to address local outbreaks of COVID-19 was impressive. Despite this, GP waiting times were too long and some prisoners had excessive waits for transfer to mental health hospitals under the Mental Health Act. A COVID-19 vaccination programme for prisoners eligible under the government priority groups was being implemented at the time of our visit.

The prison had introduced a tier system to support prisoners having longer periods out of their cell to offset the impact if an individual prisoner tested positive or displayed symptoms of COVID-19. Prisoners in tier one or two could have 90 minutes a day out of cell, while those who were symptomatic or awaiting test results went into tier three and received at least 45 minutes out of cell, including access to the open air. Prolonged periods locked in cells were clearly taking their toll and many prisoners raised concerns about the impact of restrictions on their well-being.

Prisoners’ access to the library was poor and the prison did not promote it enough as a resource, which was concerning given the need to promote in-cell activity to improve their well-being.

Education staff were directly employed by Serco and had remained on site since March. Education leaders recognised that they had been too slow to reinstate a broad curriculum and, while it was good that the proportion of prisoners engaging in education had increased during this period, too few had had their new skills and knowledge accredited.

The prison had taken far too long to introduce some critical aspects of prison life, such as family contact through Purple Visits video calling.

Lack of staffing had limited the contact between prisoners and their prison offender manager for several months, and over half of the population had not received a review of their risk and sentence plan in the previous year. Recategorisation reviews were timely, but population pressures in other prisons often affected moves of prisoners to lower category prisons.

Overall this is an encouraging report. The prison had learned from the serious COVID-19 outbreak, and partnership working between prison and health leaders was a real strength. Despite the requirement for national approval of recovery plans, the prison had been active in easing restrictions before the outbreak and had been able to reopen several key work activity areas during the summer. Nearly all strategic meetings had continued throughout this period and, while the two outbreaks combined with wider national restrictions had stalled progress, the prison was in a strong position to widen the regime when it becomes safe to do so.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
February 2021

 Return to Lowdham Grange

To read the full report go to the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the limks below.This section contains the reports for Lowdham Grange from 2004 until present: