Inside the prison where staff feel 'unsafe' and inmates are 'physically and mentally abused'

An anonymous staff member at HMP Lowdham Grange tells ITV Central's Rosie Dowsing how unsafe she feels working there

A staff member at a Nottinghamshire prison where three inmates have died within weeks has told ITV News Central of prisoners receiving "unnecessary" verbal and physical abuse from staff.

The prison worker, who we are calling "Jacqui", at HMP Lowdham Grange, has hit out at staff shortages and a lack of understanding about mental health which she said is seriously impacting the wellbeing of inmates.

We have changed Jacqui's name to protect her identity.

HMP Lowdham Grange recently received a damming report into staff shortages and prisoner safety since it was taken over by the company Sodexo in February.

Three inmates died in the prison in just three weeks after it changed hands from Serco, and Jacqui says she is concerned if things don't change urgently, there will be more.

It is the first privately-run prison in the UK to see a changeover of management.

In its annual report, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at the prison said it has serious concerns about the takeover.

Jacqui was able to give ITV Central an insider view of the problems raised in that report.

She said staff shortages sometimes meant just two prison officers have been on a wing of 60 men - and occasionally inmates would be missing healthcare appointments because there was not a staff member available to escort them there.

She told ITV News Central: "There are a lot of men in there who struggle with their mental health, and as a prison they do not have a counselling service. There is no counselling service in place.

"A lot of the prison psychology team left when Sodexo took over, so they are currently running without a psychologist. Which many of the men would benefit from.”

Asked whether she thinks a fourth inmate death could be possible if the prison does not urgently improve with regards to staff shortages and mental health, Jacqui said: "I think so."

"I think self harm and suicide is a massive issue within prisons anyway, but there are a lot of comments among prisoners saying ‘Oh, I’ll be the fourth.'"

The Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) flagged a number of problems at HMP Lowdham Grange following the prison's change of management. Credit: BPM

'Abuse on a daily basis'

As news of the IMB report into HMP Lowdham Grange surfaced last week, so did a number of TikTok videos supposedly uploaded by an inmate on a smuggled mobile phone.

In the videos you can hear the screeching of an inmate, and an officer shouting at him to "get out from under the bed."

According to the inmate filming the incident, he is being kicked under the bed in the segregation unit.

When asked about those videos, staff member 'Jacqui' told ITV Central she believes the inmate screaming is vulnerable, and should not have been treated that way.

She said she wasn't surprised by what she saw: "Unfortunately that is the culture, that that is normalised. I think there’s very much an 'Us' and 'Them'.

"Staff are almost allowed to behave in certain ways.

"Inmates are getting punched, getting kicked, very unnecessarily. They get shouted out, so they’re being verbally abused - shouted at, sweared at, having things thrown at them by prison officers.

"Prisoners find it very hard to speak out about stuff like that, because if you speak out about behaviour like that, and nothing happens, they are then put in a vulnerable position.

"It’s very isolating. So I think the fact those TikToks came out, that’s the only way they can express that that kind of behaviour is happening, because who else do you go to?"

Sodexo says it is aware of the incidents in the TikTok videos, which are under investigation.

An HMP Lowdham Grange spokesperson said: "We take such allegations very seriously and can confirm that two members of staff have been suspended pending an investigation into allegations of misconduct.

"We cannot provide any further comment whilst investigations are underway."

'Safety is a serious concern'

The Independent Monitoring Board described the three recent inmate deaths at HMP Lowdham Grange 'as apparently self-inflicted', and each individual case is under investigation by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.

The IMB added that more staff than anticipated left at the time of the handover, which has led to serious concerns about the quality of healthcare because of those staff shortages.

It said: "Staff were brought in from other prisons, but none were from high security category B prisons.

"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."

It is the second year running that the IMB has flagged safety as a concern at the prison.

The IMB flagged serious concerns since Sodexo took over Lowdham Grange in 2023. Credit: ITV News Central

We asked Jacqui if she felt safe going to work at the prison.

She said: "No, some days there is real worry that they’ll lose a wing. There’s been a few times where inmates refuse to lock up, out of frustration.

"These men don’t have many ways to communicate that they’re not happy. There’s only so many times you can fill in a complaints form."

Jacqui added she would no longer encourage people to take up work in a place like HMP Lowdham Grange as it currently is running.

She said: "I feel sorry for new officers coming in. I think it’s an extremely hard place to be working.

"The feeling of negativity around Lowdham Grange right now is huge. It feels like no one wants to be there, no one feels comfortable being there right now.

"If staff feel like that, I can’t even imagine what it’s like for inmates who have no choice but to be there."

How have Sodexo responded?

ITV News Central put Jacqui's comments about life working inside HMP Lowdham Grange to the company that runs it.

Jacqui's main concern is the lack of mental health training for staff dealing with particularly vulnerable inmates, such as prison officers working in the segregation unit.

In response, an HMP Lowdham Grange spokesperson said: "We can confirm that we have a training schedule to ensure that staff receive all the necessary training to carry out their role."

There was also a response to claims that the prison has become more unsafe since the change of management.

The spokesperson said: "Since taking over the prison in February 2023, we have been committed to implementing the agreed programme of changes and improvements which are required under the new prison contract.

"We understand that contract changes can be unsettling, and we are working hard to support the team and prisoners through this phase.

"While we cannot comment on specific security procedures, we can confirm we have a comprehensive search programme, which incorporates staff searching and which is under constant review to improve its effectiveness.

"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 CQC report is expected in the coming days following a health inspection at the prison.

Jacqui says she hopes more concerns are raised by that report, so the prison can make urgent changes.