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Independent monitors highlight safety concerns at HMP Lewes

Concerns about safety and the length of time prisoners spend in their cells at HMP Lewes feature prominently in the Independent Monitoring Board’s (IMB) annual report for 2023/24, published today (10 July 2024).

The Board notes that prison staff work hard to be able to give prisoners more time for activities such as work and education, but prisoners still spend too long locked in their cells – around 21 hours a day for those not doing purposeful activities. Time out of cell is especially limited at weekends.

The IMB report also finds that:

  • Incidents of prisoner self-harm rose by 27% over the reporting year: 620 compared to 488 in the previous reporting year.
  • There was a 30% reduction in the number of prisoner assaults against staff, but prisoner-on-prisoner violence rose by 67%, with 209 instances during the reporting year, compared to 125 the previous reporting year.
  • There have been long wait times for healthcare appointments, and the Board is especially concerned about the level of psychiatry provision in the prison: in September 2023 waiting times for mental health assessments were said to be up to 20 weeks, though the situation had eased by the end of the reporting year.
  • As the number of prisoners at HMP Lewes increased over the year, there were at times no room for new arrivals in the designated induction wing, meaning some new arrivals had to be located in the wing for vulnerable prisoners.

However, the Board is pleased to report that:

  • The introduction of the Lewes assurance multi-skills (LAMS) team, in which prisoners paint and refurbish areas of the prison, has improved the look of the residential wings and made them cleaner and tidier.
  • Prisoner attendance rates at work and education improved significantly, from 30% at the beginning of 2023 to 93% in December 2023.

IMB Lewes Vice-Chair, Nick Fairclough, said:

“The increase in violence is a significant concern, as is the fact that many of the men can be shut in their cells for up to 21 hours a day.

The Board does, however, recognise that positive steps are being taken to provide the men with more opportunities for work, education and other purposeful activity.

We also applaud the initiative where prisoners with relevant skills are deployed to paint and refurbish areas of the prison, including individual cells, which gives the men purpose and confidence.”