HMP Lowdham Grange – Another Failing Private Prison? Or a Sign of the Times?
Privately run prisons in the UK have come under considerable scrutiny for many years now, with prisons such as HMP Oakwood regularly hitting the headlines due to understaffing, poor management and unacceptable conditions.
HMP Lowdham is the latest privately run prison to come under fire – and the most recent inspection report, released this month, could be seen as another fairly damning indication of just how poorly private prisons are performing in general. But how bad is the situation really? We’ll examine the report in this blog post.
HMP Lowdham – The Facts
HMP Lowdham Grange, situated in the East Midlands close to HMP Nottingham and HMP Whatton, is a large category B prison, currently holding just over 900 male inmates. Opened in 1998, it is run by SERCO, a private company, and many of its inmates have committed serious offences – with most serving sentences of 4 years or more. Its previous inspection, in 2011, noted that the prison was ‘sae, decent and purposeful’ – a sharp contrast to some of the other inspection results of private prisons at the time. However, the latest report states that ‘safety had deteriorated’, with nearly half of the inmates saying they felt unsafe there.
Good Relationships with Inmates
Firstly, it’s important to highlight that Lowdham Grange prison still fosters good relationships between staff and inmates, which may be partly due to the fact that it’s an unusually settled prison population, without much inmate movement. The report also noted that the promotion of equality was ‘given high priority’ and ‘work to support minorities was reasonably well structured’.
There is also adequate provision for inmates in terms of meaningful activities and education courses, with good standards of teaching and high achievement rates. Given that many prisons come under attack for not providing the right level of activity for their inmates, this is especially welcome to hear.
However, the report noted that ‘the quality of personal officer work was limited and disappointing’ and that ‘prisoners lacked confidence in the way in which formal complaints were dealt, but large amounts were still submitted.’
Even more worrying, the report commented that ‘levels of violence between prisoners and towards staff were high and too much of it was serious.’ It mentioned that some of the security measures were ‘applied crudely and disproportionately, particularly regarding incentives and earned privileges.’
As with many prisons, drugs and alcohol seem to be at the heart of the problem, and the report commented that ‘evidence of hooch and synthetic drugs were prevalent’.
In addition to violence, the inspection also picked up on rising levels of self-harm, and noted that they were ‘higher than comparable prisons’, with many affected prisoners citing ‘bullying’ as the trigger for their self-harm.
However, the report did comment that ‘there was good care for prisoners in crisis on normal location,’ and that prisoners had good access to buddies. It also went on to state that they ‘were concerned about the use of segregation, special cell and mechanical restraints for this group.’
How Bad is the Situation Really?
Of course, it should be acknowledged that HMP Lowdham Grange is working with some of the country’s more challenging inmates – people who have committed moderately to extremely serious offenses. However, Lowdham Grange enjoys an unusually settled prison community, which in theory, should make it easier to develop good relationships between staff and inmates.
After such a positive report in 2011, it is disappointing to see that standards in certain key areas have slid. We only hope that the prison can take on board the comments offered by the Chief Inspector of Prisons and make the necessary improvements.
You can see the positive 2011 Lowdham Grange report here: