Treatment and conditions for men in HMP Lewes in Sussex declined over two years while the jail was subject to HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) ‘special measures.’ The failure of special measures suggested a systemic failure within the prison service, according to Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.
The prison was last inspected in January 2016, when inspectors found it to be reasonably good in respect and resettlement, and not sufficiently good in safety and purposeful activity.
Unfortunately, Mr Clarke said, “the findings of this inspection (in January 2019) were deeply troubling and indicative of systemic failure within the prison service. We found that in three areas – respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning – there had been a decline in performance.
“In the fourth area, the key one of safety, although performance was not so poor as to drag the assessment to the lowest possible level, it was undoubtedly heading in that direction.
“What makes the decline at Lewes even more difficult to understand is the fact that two years ago HMPPS put the prison into what it described as ‘special measures’.
“I have examined the ‘Improving Lewes (Special Measures) Action Plan’ agreed with senior HMPPS management in August 2018. However, of the 45 action points in the plan, 39 had not been completed and the majority were described as requiring ‘major development’.”
There were, Mr Clarke added, over 50 references to reviewing activity in the plan, “but a noticeable dearth of hard targets.
“The results of this inspection clearly showed that, far from delivering better outcomes, two years of ‘special measures’ had coincided with a serious decline in performance.”
Mr Clarke warned that unless HMP Lewes had strong leadership and a realistic action plan focused on delivering clear, measurable outcomes, it was highly likely that the use of the HMI Prisons Urgent Notification procedure would have to be considered at some point. Inspectors at Lewes found:
- Safety – Since the last inspection there had been five self-inflicted deaths, and incidents of self-harm had tripled but there had been an inadequate response to recommendations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO). While levels of violence were broadly similar to 2016, assaults against staff had risen and a quarter of prisoners felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. One fifth of assaults were serious. Illicit drugs undoubtedly sat behind much of the violence. Despite this, devices to detect contraband and drugs had not been working since April 2018. Mr Clarke said: “I was told this was because of ‘procurement’ difficulties. If ‘special measures’ was intended to help the prison overcome this type of bureaucratic obstacle, it had failed.”
- Respect – Seventy-eight per cent of prisoners said staff treated them with respect and the atmosphere was reasonably calm. “This was an unusually high figure for this type of prison, and added weight to the notion that the problems at Lewes were not insoluble, but did require significant management intervention.” There were “very real weaknesses” in health care in the prison.
- Purposeful activity – Ofsted inspectors found “no clear strategy” for the delivery of learning and skills, and allocation to activities appeared to be a matter of luck. While time out of cell was good for those attending activities, it was not so good for those not attending, and inspectors found 40% of prisoners locked in their cells during the working day.
- Rehabilitation and release planning – A lack of leadership meant that there was weak strategic management, and the reducing reoffending strategy was out of date.
Overall, Mr Clarke said:
“This was a very disappointing inspection… The detail contained in this report brings into question the utility of ‘special measures’, if a prison can decline so badly when supposedly benefitting from them for a full two years. It also validates the Inspectorate’s new Independent Reviews of Progress, which are specifically designed to give ministers a report of progress against previous inspection reports at struggling prisons such as Lewes. A new governor had taken up post shortly before this inspection, and she will need support from her own management team and from more senior levels in HMPPS if the decline at HMP Lewes is to be arrested and reversed.”
Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Director General of Prisons, said:
“After the previous inspection in January 2016, the staffing position at Lewes deteriorated and there were a number of disturbances. The prison clearly needed central support to tackle the challenges they faced. In January 2017, it was placed into special measures – a process that has successfully supported improvement at other prisons. Staff from other establishments supported the prison, and although there has been progress in some areas, it has not been as swift or as comprehensive as we would have hoped. Better recruitment meant we were fully staffed in 2018 which has helped to halt the decline. As noted by the inspectorate, assaults have fallen and self-harm has started to reduce too. Safety is the Governor’s clear priority. We are providing extra support from our central safety team to drive further improvements, and the prison has introduced x-ray scanners and netting to combat drugs. The establishment is well-placed to make further progress and will focus on the Inspectorate’s recommendations to do so.”
The evidence is now compelling that the well-intended theory of Special Measures needs to be revisited – it has a habit making things worse not better..
The table below shows those prisons that, as of March 2019, are currently in Special Measures and the dates on which they were placed there.
It is salient to note from this table that three of the four prisons that were subsequently the subject of Urgent Notifications all began by being placed into Special Measures – Nottingham, Bedford and Exeter – and according to the Chief Inspector, Lewes Prison is heading the same way.
Piecemeal attempts to fix individual prisons by Special Measures is failing, that much is obvious.
Recommendations that are vital to progress and success are not being implemented, this isn’t due to a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude by prison governors and staff, it is due to the fact that we demand too much of them by way of delivery, with a timescale too often completely unrealistic and an expectation that they can do it all with a handful of staff and a budget of tuppence ha’penny; they’re Managers, not Magicians.
What we need is a back-to-the-drawing board approach with our prisons, one that starts with defining exactly what it is we want our prisons to deliver in terms of punishment, deterrence, reform and victim care – and vitally one that then not only identifies the resources needed to deliver it but one that also provides those resources, and then ring-fences them too.
You can read a copy of this shocking report, published on 14 May 2019, here: https://www.prisons.org.uk/Lewes2019.pdf
Facts: HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
HMP Lewes is a medium-sized category B local prison. At the time of this inspection it held around 580 male prisoners, both sentenced and on remand. The prison was last inspected in January 2016. On that occasion we found it to be reasonably good in the areas of respect and resettlement, and not sufficiently good in the areas of safety and purposeful activity. HMP Lewes was built in 1853 as the county prison for Sussex. It has a semi-radial design and is half a mile from the town centre of Lewes. In 2007, a new house block was completed, which created 174 places in two attached wings, plus a new workshop, gym, visits hall, multi-faith centre and several new classrooms. F wing was refurbished in 2012.
Notable features from this inspection: 26% of prisoners were unsentenced; 201 prisoners presented a high or very high risk of harm; the prison held 85 prisoners who were on the sex offenders register; 54% of prisoners were category C.
This unannounced inspection took place between 14 and 25 January 2019.