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Covid restrictions hit prisoners at HMP Lewes

Prisoners largely kept safe during the pandemic but were locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.

The Governor and staff at HMP Lewes were successful in containing the impact of Covid during 2021, but the resulting regime, with men locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day, was extremely detrimental to prisoners, said the prison’s independent monitoring board in its 2021-22 annual report, published today.

The Lewes IMB notes that:

  • The Governor, her team and prison officers worked hard to contain the spread of Covid-19 within the prison. When outbreaks occurred, they were contained quickly.
  • At various times during 2021, prisoners were only unlocked from their cells for half an hour a day and the ‘best’ regime offered has been very far from ideal. As stated last year, we cannot know what the long-term impact on prisoners’ physical and mental welfare will be of being kept in cells for such long periods.
  • Violence within the prison is still a significant issue, with prisoner-on-prisoner assaults averaging around 12 a month, a 12 percent increase on last year.
  • Reported self-harm is still an almost daily occurrence.
  • There is concern that prisoners from ethnic minorities may not be being treated fairly in some areas, specifically in relation to use of force and the incentives and earned privileges scheme, where there is disproportionality.
  • The delivery of physical and mental health services deteriorated during the year. Essential services were still delivered but the number of healthcare complaints to the Board from prisoners was high.

Peter Scaramanga, Chair of the IMB at Lewes, commented:

“This was another very difficult year and we commend prison staff for keeping prisoners safe as well as fully informed during the pandemic.

“We can see the prison management is now facing new challenges including those of staff recruitment and retention. We sincerely hope prisoners are able to spend more time out of cell, in education and work, enabling them to use their time productively in preparation for release.”