Violence, drugs and self harm at HMP Lewes highlighted in IMB annual report

A significant increase in prisoner-on-prisoner violence, together with high levels of self-harm and the availability of drugs are major issues outlined in the annual report of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP Lewes.

Of particular concern is the recorded violence perpetrated by a prisoner on another prisoner which rose from 165 incidents to 278 in 2018/19, an increase of 68%.

Levels of self harm are also a major concern, with 579 instances of prisoners identified as being at risk from self-harm or suicide.

The report also states that the availability and usage of drugs in the prison remains high – a major concern as the misuse of drugs and other illicit substances affects the stability of the prison and the safety of prisoners. Searches by the prison included 106 occasions of drugs being found and the average failure rate of prisoners from random drug testing between April to November 2018 was more than 20%.

“The Board also considers the residential accommodation at HMP Lewes is often not of a high enough standard,” said Mary Bell, chair of the IMB at HMP Lewes. “Increased efforts are needed to improve the accommodation conditions, including the timely replacement of furniture, and that cleanliness is made a higher priority.”

“While we welcome the increased predictability of the daily regime, the Board also considers there are still major failings in that men who do not go to work or education are likely to be locked up for more than 22 hours a day,” said Mrs Bell.

The IMB report welcomes various improvements over the last year. These include the prison’s partnership with the charity Spurgeons, which has created a visitors’ centre where no facilities previously existed.

Also, making HMP Lewes smoke-free is an improvement in both the living environment for the prisoners and the working environment for staff. The introduction of evening association periods for the larger wings also allows many of the men more time out of cell and potentially more opportunities for family contact.

The annual report covers the period February 2018 to January 2019, with evidence gained from observations during 573 visits to the prison, scrutiny of records and data as well as informal contact with prisoners and staff.

The Board comprises ordinary members of the public, appointed by the Secretary of State for Justice, whose role is to monitor the day-to-day life in the prison and ensure that proper standards of care and decency are maintained.