Safety has been flagged as a serious concern at a Nottinghamshire prison for a second year running, following three apparently self-inflicted deaths in three weeks.
The Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) flagged a number of problems at HMP Lowdham Grange, alerting ministers to its concerns following the prison's change of management, in annex to its report in 2022/2023.
It outlines that there were three deaths, within three weeks of the prison's change of management from Serco to Sodexo in February this year.
The deaths are now under investigation by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.
The original report covered the period from February 1, 2022 to January 31, 2023, when the prison was operated by Serco.
In its annual report, covering the period before the change of management, the board noted that safety at the prison had deteriorated for the second year running.
Drugs were a continuing problem, a significant number of improvised weapons were discovered, the prison's staff shortages impacted on meaningful activities, and that once prisoners were released directly from HMP Lowdham Grange, there was no specialist rehabilitation and resettlement resources.
It also noted that there were three deaths, within three weeks of the change of management.
It highlighted that more staff than anticipated left at the time of the handover, staff were brought in from other prisons but none were from high-security category B prisons and that serious concerns about the quality of healthcare, raised in an inquest into a previous death in custody, had increased because of staff shortages and the withdrawal of night-time nursing cover.
An HMP Lowdham Grange spokesperson from Sodexo said: “This report covers a period where another provider operated the prison. Therefore, it is not appropriate for us to comment on that period.
“Since assuming responsibility for the prison in February 2023, we have been focused with healthcare, education and probation delivery partners on the daily operation of running the prison and on delivering the changes agreed as part of the new prison contract.
“Every death in a custodial setting is investigated by the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and therefore we are unable to comment further at this stage. Our thoughts remain with the families.”
A Serco spokesman said: “Managing HMP Lowdham Grange in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic was highly challenging. Additionally, this was the first time that a prison has been transferred from one private company to another and there are no doubt lessons to be learnt from everyone involved.”
The Chair of the Lowdham Grange IMB said: "The deteriorating situation at Lowdham Grange has caused significant concern to the board. These concerns were compounded by shortages of both prison and healthcare staff.
"Prisoners are also directly released without specialist rehabilitation and resettlement involvement. Despite this catalogue of difficulties, the prison has been told to prepare to take an extra twenty prisoners, some of whom will have to share cells for the first time."