HMP Lewes

HMP Lewes

HMP Lewes had a number of strengths, but needed to focus on safety, tackling violence and increasing work, training and education, said Martin Lomas, Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the local prison in East Sussex.

HMP Lewes, at the time of the inspection, 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. 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, which meant other new arrivals were placed where a space could be found, even in the segregation unit, a particularly inappropriate location for someone new to prison. Most staff on other units were unaware of new arrivals and could not therefore provide first night support and monitoring. Some staff did not carry anti-ligature knives and could not assure inspectors that they would act appropriately in the event of a serious self-harm incident.


Inspectors, however, were pleased to find that:

  • most of the prison was clean and in good condition, which was a considerable achievement considering it was 160 years old;
  • good relationships between staff and prisoners were a strength that underpinned much of the positive work;
  • health care was reasonably good but too many hospital appointments were missed as a result of a lack of escort staff;
  • strategic oversight of resettlement was reasonable; and
  • the prison had developed good relationships with the community rehabilitation company which were among the best inspectors have seen so far.


Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • a quarter of prisoners reported feeling depressed or suicidal on arrival and a third said they had mental health problems;
  • levels of violence and use of force were high and oversight of both were poor – at Lewes the number of assaults was even higher than at other prisons recently inspected:
  • the general picture on violence, however, was complex and needed careful analysis, as prisoners reported feeling relatively safe and self-harm was lower than other similar prisons;
  • safer custody staff had no time to carry out work to understand and address such findings;
  • provision for older and disabled prisoners was inadequate and overall arrangements for equality and diversity were also poor;
  • work, training and education outcomes had dipped since the last inspection, although they were improving;
  • despite a new regime, people on some units were routinely locked up for 23 hours and inspectors found half of the population in their cells during the course of the working day;
  • not all staff recognised the importance of offender management; and
  • some sex offenders stayed at the prison for too long without doing suitable offending behaviour work.

Martin Lomas said:

“HMP Lewes had 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.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:
“Despite the prison’s age I am pleased that the Chief Inspector has recognised that there are a number of strengths at HMP Lewes.

“It is a testament to the hard work of staff that the prison is clean, and decent, and that relationships between staff and prisoners are positive, and that resettlement support for prisoners is a strength.

“Improving safety is a priority and the Governor has put plans in place to address each of the inspectorate concerns, including provision of additional training for staff to better support vulnerable prisoners”.

A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 26 April 2016 at: