Lewes Prison ‘needs improvement’ to address high levels of violence

Lewes Prison ENGSUS00120121114095805
Lewes Prison ENGSUS00120121114095805

Lewes Prison has been told it needs to improve its safety measures after an inspector found a worrying level of violence in the establishment.

Martin Lomas, deputy chief inspector of prisons, today (Tuesday, April 26) published the report of an unannounced inspection of the prison during December 2015 and January 2016.

In his findings, he said: “Levels of violence and use of force were high and oversight of both were poor - at Lewes, the number of assaults was even higher than at other prisons recently inspected.

“The general picture on violence, however, was complex and needed careful analysis, as prisoners reported feeling relatively safe and self-harm was lower than other similar prisons.”

At the time of the inspection, HMP Lewes held just over 640 prisoners, including a substantial number awaiting trial or sentence. A quarter of prisoners reported feeling depressed or suicidal on arrival and a third said they had mental health problems.

A third of the population were convicted of sexual offences, many with long or indeterminate sentences, and about 15 per cent were in the last three months of their sentence and located at Lewes for pre-release resettlement support.

However, the inspector found ‘some sex offenders stayed at the prison for too long without doing suitable offending behaviour work’ and some sex offenders were held in the first night centre because there was nowhere else to put them, which meant other new arrivals were placed where a space could be found. This included in the segregation unit, ‘a particularly inappropriate location for someone new to prison’.

Martin Lomas said: “HMP Lewes had a number of strengths, especially its good staff-prisoner relationships which mitigated, to a degree, other weaknesses. 

“The CRC arrangements were encouraging and, despite the prison’s considerable age, the environment was generally decent. “The prison has four principal challenges going forward: a consistent first night process was needed for all prisoners, wherever they were held, supported by proper training of night staff to assure the safety of all prisoners. 

“The high level of assaults demanded more systematic and focused violence reduction analysis and actions. The needs of minority groups, especially the large number of disabled and older prisoners, needed to be better addressed. 

“Finally, improved access to purposeful activity was necessary with efficient use of the available spaces. Addressing these concerns will help the prison to build on the undoubted good work of many of its staff.”

Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said: “Despite the prison’s age I am pleased that the chief inspector has recognised that there are a number of strengths at HMP Lewes. 

“It is a testament to the hard work of staff that the prison is clean, and decent, and that relationships between staff and prisoners are positive, and that resettlement support for prisoners is a strength.

“Improving safety is a priority and the Governor has put plans in place to address each of the inspectorate concerns, including provision of additional training for staff to better support vulnerable prisoners.”

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