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HMP Lewes

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Report on an announced inspection of HMP Lewes by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (5–16 February 2024)

Lewes healthy prison scores

Bar chart showing the healthy prison scores at HMP Lewes in 2024 compared with 2022. Safety and respect remained not sufficiently good, purposeful activity remained poor, and preparation for release had declined from reasonably good to not sufficiently good.

What we found

The prison was battling rising violence, self-harm, drugs and a churn of men caught in a cycle of homelessness and offending as the prison service continues to grapple with the effects of the population crisis.

Lewes had been in such a concerning state at its last two inspections that the Chief Inspector of Prisons took the unusual step of notifying the prison service when Lewes would next be inspected in a bid to drive more urgent improvement. While a dynamic new governor clearly understood the scale of the challenge and was already having an impact, the jail was struggling with rising violence and self-harm – which were both notably worse than other reception prisons – and a serious drug problem. More than half of prisoners were receiving support for substance use and 28% tested positive for drugs in mandatory testing. 

The new Governor of Lewes had made some real improvement since our last visit, but the jail remained trapped in a cycle of staffing shortfalls, boredom, and drugs driving rising violence and self-harm. Too many men were released homeless and inevitably recalled very shortly thereafter. None of this is unique to Lewes; reception prisons up and down the country continue to be on the frontline of the current population crisis, grappling with increasingly transient populations, ageing infrastructure and a lack of activity places for the populations that they are being asked to hold.
Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons