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Drugs, violence and self-harm continue to dominate life at Lowdham Grange

An independent review of progress at Lowdham Grange found worrying increases in violence and self harm and high levels of drugs.

Inspectors returning to Lowdham Grange prison to assess progress after a worrying earlier inspection found levels of violence had increased by 55%, self-harm by 41% and drug use had also risen further. Two men had also taken their own lives, taking the total of self-inflicted deaths at the jail during 2023 to five. And, in the ten months before the review, 127 staff had also resigned leaving the prison desperately short-staffed.

The situation at the privately run jail was so concerning that the prison service had intervened to take back operational management to try and arrest the prison’s decline, bringing in an experienced governor to work alongside the director as well as prison officers on detached duty.  Prison inspectors did not find an acceptable level of progress in a single one of the concerns that they had raised at the earlier inspection, which was particularly worrying as these focused on safety and public protection.

It’s unprecedented for the prison service to use their power to ‘step in’ and take back control of a privately run prison, so we knew Lowdham was struggling, but even so we were shocked by quite how bad things had got at the jail. The new Governor and the existing Director appeared to be working well together, however, and there was very early evidence that their combined actions since the step-in, had begun to improve things. If this is going to be sustained, it is absolutely vital that the prison continues to read the support it needs from the prison service to maintain adequate staffing and a relentless focus on improving safety, including the serious drug problem at the jail.

We are increasingly concerned about the prevalence of drugs in prisons and Lowdham Grange had one of the highest positive result rates for mandatory drug testing, at over 40%. It was, therefore, particularly reassuring to see that tackling this was now a priority, with targeted searches over the Christmas period leading to more than 600 litres of hooch being confiscated.

Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons

Notes to editors

  1. Read the HMP Lowdham Grange report, published on 20 February 2023
  2. This independent review of progress took place between 8-10 January 2024 and followed a full inspection in May 2023.
  3. 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.
  4. Please email if you would like more information.