HMP Lowdham Grange - well led and dealt with serious COVID-19 outbreak

Read the report: HMP Lowdham Grange

HMP Lowdham Grange, a large men’s prison near Nottingham, was found to have dealt effectively with a serious COVID-19 outbreak in September 2020, in which hundreds of prisoners and staff tested positive, according to a report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMI Prisons).

Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said one prisoner had subsequently died with COVID-19-related symptoms. “This outbreak was one of the biggest in a prison at that time. The leadership team had worked effectively in partnership with health care providers and an outbreak control team… to bring it under control.”

Inspectors who visited in January and February 2021 found that prison leaders had identified lessons to be learned from the September outbreak and had taken a robust approach to minimising the risks of transmission, which meant that a smaller outbreak shortly before HMI Prisons’ scrutiny visit was well managed and swiftly contained.

Communication with staff and prisoners about restrictions was effective and social distancing was well promoted in the prison, which held around 880 men – the majority serving 10 years or more. The prison had invested in technology such as proximity sensors to alert staff who inadvertently breached distancing protocols.

Mr Taylor said frontline staff were clearly visible when cells were unlocked, and inspectors observed good relationships between staff and prisoners. However, while violence between prisoners had reduced between July and December 2020, compared with the same period in 2019, violence towards staff had increased. Prison leaders felt that this was due to growing frustration with regime restrictions, although there had been no detailed analysis.

Living conditions were reasonable and nearly all cells contained telephones and many also had integral showers. Work to promote equality had continued throughout the pandemic period, although a promising race equality taskforce, established as a response to wider concerns raised by prisoners around Black Lives Matter, had to be suspended due to the September outbreak of COVID-19 in the prison.

Health care provision was reasonably good, though GP waiting times were too long and some prisoners had excessive waits for transfer to mental health hospitals under the Mental Health Act.

The prison had introduced a tier system to support prisoners to have longer periods out of their cells. Those in tier one or two could have 90 minutes a day out of cell, while those who were symptomatic or awaiting test results went into tier three and received at least 45 minutes out of cell, including access to the open air.

However, most prisoners still spent prolonged periods locked in cells and, Mr Taylor said, “many prisoners raised concerns about the impact of restrictions on their well-being.” Prisoners’ access to the library was poor, which was concerning given the need to promote in-cell activity to improve their well-being.

Education staff were directly employed by Serco, which runs the prison, and had remained on site since March. Education leaders recognised that they had been too slow to reinstate a broad curriculum and, while it was good that the proportion of prisoners engaging in education had increased during this period, Ofsted inspectors assessed that too few had had their new skills and knowledge accredited. The prison had also taken far too long to introduce family contact through ‘Purple Visits’ video calling.

Overall, Mr Taylor said: “This is an encouraging report. The prison had learned from the serious COVID-19 outbreak, and partnership working between prison and health leaders was a real strength. Despite the requirement for national approval of recovery plans, the prison had been active in easing restrictions before the outbreak and had been able to reopen several key work activity areas during the summer. Nearly all strategic meetings had continued throughout this period and, while the two outbreaks combined with wider national restrictions had stalled progress, the prison was in a strong position to widen the regime when it becomes safe to do so.”

– End –

Notes to editors

  1. Read the report: HMP Lowdham Grange. This report was published on 5 March 2021.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. Read about the development of scrutiny visits (SVs) in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
  4. On page 6 of the report you can read facts and history about HMP Lowdham Grange.
  5. On pages 7-9 you can read key concerns and recommendations and four examples of notable positive practice identified in this scrutiny visit.
  6. This scrutiny visit took place on 12 January and 2 February 2021.
  7. Please contact – or on 07880 787452 – if you would like more information.