Unannounced inspection of HMP Lowdham Grange finds 'atmosphere of uncertainty and anxiety'

HMP Lowdham Gange in Nottinghamshire

An unannounced inspection of a Nottinghamshire prison has criticised the 'atmosphere of anxiety and uncertainty' among prisoners and staff there.

The report into HMP Lowdham Grange was carried out by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and also highlighted the high amount of prisoner deaths since it changed management.

HMP Lowdham Grange is a privately-run category B prison holding up to 800 adult men.

It became the first prison to change management between private companies after, in February 2023, Sodexo took over from Serco - who had run the prison for 25 years.

'The prison was not safe enough'

Inspectors raised concerns about safety in the prison, not just in the availability of drugs and record violence, but also in the 'poor state of governance' reflected in the 'failure' to investigate allegations of misconduct among staff.

The report raised the issue of 14 prisoner deaths having occurred since the inspectorate last visited in 2018.

Six of those had been self-inflicted, and three of them occurred in March, shortly after the changeover of management.

'Poor outcomes for patients'

The report also said that staff shortages in health care had resulted in poor outcomes for patients.

Inmates were dealing with 'lengthy waits for services' which had been exacerbated by 'a lack of governance' over the health service within the prison.

This was a priority concern raised by the inspectors alongside the rising rates of self-harm.

It said: "Not enough was being done to support prisoners in crisis and those at risk of self-harm.

"Prisoners and staff we spoke to told us self-harm was a result of the uncertainty and changes facing the prison, as well as bullying, debt and prisoners not being able to get help with basic requests."

ITV News Central had previously spoken to a whistleblower who worked at the prison:

'The frustration was palpable'

According to Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, staff and prisoners were 'uncertain about routines'.

The inspection spot checks found more than 40% of prisoners were locked up during the working day, and access to work, education and rehabilitation activities was 'poor'.

Ofsted also investigated as part of the report and judged all aspects of the provision as 'inadequate.'

In the summary of his findings, Mr Taylor said: "The prison was failing to fulfil its rehabilitative function.

"Many prisoners posed a high risk of harm, but offender management, public protection and resettlement services all needed to be better."

"Lowdham Grange was struggling. To some extent this was predictable in the context of transition from one provider to another.

"Leaders were, however, sighted on the issues and the full delivery of the new contract should address many of the concerns we have identified.

"They need support and encouragement to make sure this is achieved expeditiously."

A HMP Lowdham Grange representative acknowledged the report's damning conclusions but promised to address the concerns - some of which it said pre-existed the change in operator. "While this is a challenging report, it is valuable to receive these findings so early into our operation of HMP Lowdham Grange, which started some three months before the Inspection," a spokesperson said.

"We acknowledge this has been an unsettling time for those who are employed or live in the prison and continue to work tirelessly to resolve the issues – many of which are longstanding. Valuable lessons have been learned from this first of its kind transition.

"We are fully committed to delivering against our new contract and the benefits this will bring.”