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Transition of Lowdham Grange from Serco, to another private provider, Sodexo, resulted in turmoil in almost all aspects of the prison, says the Howard League for Penal Reform

The transition between private providers left almost every aspect of a prison in turmoil, including significant staff shortages and rising levels of self-harm and violence, says a watchdog.

The Howard League for Penal Reform responded to His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on HMP Lowdham Grange prison, which is published today.

Inspectors visited the prison in May 2023 and found that the transition from one private provider, Serco, to another, Sodexo had resulted in turmoil in almost every aspect of the prison.

HMP Lowdham Grange
HMP Lowdham Grange

Fourteen men had died at Lowdham Grange since the last inspection in 2018, of which six deaths were self-inflicted. Worryingly, said The Howard League for Penal Reform, three of the self-inflicted deaths took place shortly after the transition between providers.

Levels of violence in the prison were observed to be on the rise, with causes linked to drugs, debt and bullying, and gang-related violence. Inspectors found prisoners choosing to isolate in cells, some for several months, in response to the violent atmosphere.

HMP Lowdham Grange
HMP Lowdham Grange

Inspectors were concerned by inappropriate behaviour of prison staff, and use of force was found to be very poorly overseen.

Prisoners were also not able to access accredited behavioural programmes, even while 90% of the population was assessed as presenting a high risk of serious harm to others.

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon), chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “We often hear about the grim conditions inside Victorian prisons, but this report should remind everyone that there are major issues in newer jails as well. It should give ministers pause for thought as they continue to seek planning permission for more prisons against the wishes of local residents.

“Lowdham Grange only opened 25 years ago, but with staff shortages, allegations of misconduct, rising levels of self-harm and violence, and men spending as little as three hours a day out of their cells, this is a jail with many of the problems that we see up and down the country in a prison system that has been asked to do too much, with too little, for too long.

“Most worrying of all is the fact that 14 men have died in Lowdham Grange in the last five years, including three who are believed to have taken their own lives a short while after the prison changed hands in February. It would be wrong to speculate about factors that may have contributed to these tragedies, but clearly, they warrant an urgent and thorough investigation.”

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