HMP Lowdham Grange, a training prison in Nottinghamshire operated by Serco and holding many men serving very long sentences, had become more violent since it was last inspected three years ago and there had been a “quite marked deterioration in the provision of education, skills and work.”
This area of ‘purposeful activity’ was assessed as poor, the lowest assessment.
The report noted that “the number of violent incidents was high and some were serious.” Much of the violence related to the trade in illicit drugs in the prison.
Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the prison had an encouraging new violence reduction strategy with a prisoners’ ‘violence hotline’, which was commended as good practice. However, Mr Clarke added: “While much of what we saw was good and seemed to us a good foundation for progress, it was too early to say if the approach was working. Levels of violence remained high.
“In keeping with the amount of violence evident, use of force had doubled and the use of segregation was also high. Oversight and accountability for the use of force and segregation required significant improvement.” However, the use of technology to scan mail as a potential source of drugs was “a useful initiative” and the availability of drugs had reduced in recent months.
The amount of self-harm in the prison had increased significantly and, since 2015, two prisoners had taken their own lives.
Most prisoners had “quite good” time out of cell but outcomes in education, skills and work had deteriorated. Mr Clarke said: “The range of provision was diminished and quality assurance arrangements were lacking. Teaching, learning and assessment outcomes were poor and too few completed their courses.”
On a more positive note, the prison environment was reasonable, although internal areas could have been cleaner. Access to services was generally very good and included a well-used internal advice line. Outcomes for minority groups were reasonable but some negative perceptions among these groups required further exploration. Health services were good but delays in access to some important elements of health care were excessive. Prisoners could wait up to 64 days for a routine GP appointment. Mr Clarke added that, in view of the risk posed by many of the 920 men held at Lowdham Grange, “it was reassuring that work to support risk reduction and rehabilitation was reasonably good.”
Overall, Mr Clarke said:
“Our findings at Lowdham Grange were adequate if inconsistent. There had been some progress but there was very much the sense that the prison was doing just enough. For example, the prison’s level of attention to our 2015 recommendations was very disappointing and a missed opportunity. We did see some innovative practice, and recent improvements needed to be embedded. There was much more to do, however, to enhance the prison’s very poor training offer.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:
“Lowdham Grange holds a challenging long-term prisoner population. Outcomes from this inspection confirm that they manage risk, public protection and rehabilitation requirements reasonably well but need to do more on safety and in providing quality education and training for prisoners. Serco are committed to improving performance at the prison and we will closely monitor their response to the recommendations in this report.”
On Purposeful Activity the Chief Inspector found:
Time out of cell and access to association and exercise were good for most prisoners. On average, 27% of prisoners were locked up during the working day. The library service was adequate but did not promote literacy effectively. Recreational gym provision was reasonably good but indoor facilities and equipment were very poor and the floor in the weights room was damaged and hazardous. Monitoring of library and gym use was weak and it was difficult to determine who used them and whether access was equitable.
Leaders and managers had not achieved any of our previous recommendations.
Most strengths highlighted at the previous inspection had deteriorated into weaknesses.
Leaders and managers did not have sufficient oversight of the quality of education, skills and work, including the quality of teaching, learning and assessment. Quality assurance and improvement processes were not effective. The self-assessment report was not evaluative enough and demonstrated that leaders did not have an accurate understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the provision. The number and range of education courses had reduced since the last inspection. NVQ qualifications in industries had been withdrawn, and there was now no externally recognised accreditation in the workplace. The curriculum did not reflect the needs of the population accurately. Staff shortages and regular cross deployment of education staff led to cancelled classes. Staff performance management and development were minimal and did not address identified weaknesses. The number of purposeful activity places did not meet the needs of the whole population. Allocation to education activities was arbitrary. Prisoners were allocated to education courses while applying for work opportunities. The pay rates afforded a significant disincentive to prisoners to engage with education and vocational training. Prisoners sometimes did not arrive on time to their lessons because of a staged movement to activities.
Since the previous inspection, the quality of teaching, learning and assessment had declined significantly. Trainers and teachers did not have high enough expectations of what prisoners could achieve and did not make enough use of prisoners’ starting points to plan their individual learning and training. Induction into education was not sufficiently detailed or robust. Prisoners’ individual learning plans were weak. Targets were often generic and did not help prisoners to achieve qualifications or develop new skills. Trainers did not routinely develop prisoners’ English and mathematics in vocational training and prison work. Prisoners with additional learning support needs were not supported effectively enough. Trainers and teachers did not routinely feed back clearly to prisoners on how they could improve their knowledge, skills and understanding. There was no virtual campus12. Teaching, learning and assessment in the sports academy were good and prisoners made reasonable progress.
Inside Media13 was well resourced and staffed by very experienced professionals who developed prisoners’ skills successfully. Trainers and teachers built good working relationships with prisoners.
In employability and information and communication technology lessons, prisoners developed successfully the skills and behaviour needed for future employment, such as effective communication and word processing skills, and the importance of good personal presentation and hygiene.
Trainers did not record prisoners’ progress, learning and skills development in workshops. Prisoners were often motivated by financial reward rather than personal and academic development. Prisoners in industries did not develop new skills that were likely to benefit them in the future. The number of prisoners attending education lessons was not consistently high. Attendance was good in vocational training and industries. Prisoners who attended education and training improved their confidence. Prisoners behaved well and showed respect for each other and for staff. Some prisoners in a minority of education and vocational training classes were proud of what they had achieved. The standard of their work was high. In some sessions, teachers developed prisoners’ skills for employment effectively.
Too many prisoners who started education programmes did not complete them. In 2017, only 65% of prisoners who started a course achieved it. Data recording, monitoring and management, particularly of progress, skills development and achievement, were weak.
Leaders did not monitor achievement gaps between different groups of prisoners. Most prisoners could not make informed decisions about the next steps in their education, employment or training because of a lack of information about the curriculum. Progression through levels in the same subject was poor. Staffing issues in some subject areas affected prisoners’ progress, achievement and learning experiences.
Additional: Photo Booth installed.
A jail has installed a photo booth so inmates can take pictures with family members.
Prisoners at privately-run HMP Lowdham Grange can use the facility to capture group shots with relatives during visits.
The move was praised in an inspection report on the Nottinghamshire prison.
It said: “There was a photo booth for prisoners and their families to take a group photograph, which was another good innovation.”
The prison’s operator Serco said the photo booth was introduced in March last year as part of efforts to help families and children have a more positive experience of visiting their fathers.
Used more than 2,200 times, it has been “extremely popular”, the firm added.
Following the trial at Lowdham Grange, Serco expects to introduce photo booths at its other prisons.
Ministers have highlighted the importance of enabling prisoners to keep up relationships with loved ones when behind bars.
Last month, the Government announced plans that will allow thousands more inmates in England and Wales to make phone calls from their cells.
The report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons also disclosed that Lowdham Grange introduced a “violence hotline” in an effort to improve safety.
Inmates can use the service to report concerns about violent or anti-social behaviour.
HMIP described the measure as an example of “good practice”.
It said: “Prisoners could call to report concerns about violence and the safer custody team responded quickly.
“The team also worked with health care to offer support to prisoners who had been using illicit substances.”
The inspection, which took place in August, found the number of violent incidents was high for a category B training prison, with 64 assaults on staff and 83 on prisoners in the last six months.
There had been 30 serious incidents involving weapons, some of which had resulted in puncture wounds and hospitalisation.
Most violence related to the trade of illicit drugs, the inspectorate said.
HMIP noted that the use of technology to scan mail for drugs was a “very useful” initiative but it said the practice of destroying all correspondence that indicated positive, including photographs and stamps, was “excessive”.
Opened in 1998, Lowdham Grange holds up to 920 adult men.
Mark Hanson, Serco contract director at Lowdham Grange, said: “We are pleased that this report highlights a number of areas of progress, good practice and innovation in the prison, particularly our new violence reduction programme.
“However, we know we have much more to do to address all the recommendations in the report and embed the improvements that we been making in recent months and we are working on these as a matter of urgency.”