Home UK News Three prisoners have ‘unexplained deaths’ after new prison contract

Three prisoners have ‘unexplained deaths’ after new prison contract

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Three prison deaths linked to changing prison contract

The prison’s watchdog, the International Monitoring Board, has associated three prison deaths with the change of the prison’s contract.

It was a historic moment when Sodexo took over the running of Lowdham Grange from Serco in February. The contract was for ten years, and was worth £264 million. This was the very first instance of a privately-run prison in the UK changing proprietors.

A report by the prison’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) found that Lowdham Grange went from being totally staffed to having 68 vacancies after the decision to transfer the contract was announced last year. Two directors, four assistant directors, the chief of psychology, and “a number of other highly competent operational managers” were among those who departed. Many moved to employment within Serco.

The lack of staff members caused a limited regime to be implemented, causing prisoners to be limited in their access to visits, the gym, reading materials, shared religious gatherings, an outside exercise area, and bathrooms. The amount of jailed individuals deemed as likely to hurt or kill themselves recorded by the ACCT process saw an increase from thirteen in February to thirty-six in April.

Additionally, in March there were three deaths within the prison, which are currently under investigation.

The IMB said in an addendum to its annual report, published last week: “The management and operation of the prison transferred from Serco to Sodexo on 16 February 2023. In the following six to seven weeks, which covers the period of preparation of this report, the members of the Board noted serious concerns relating to the operation of the prison and the implication for safety.”

It listed among its concerns: “During the month of March 2023, there were three deaths in custody. These are being investigated by the Prisons & Probation Ombudsman and the police.”

The IMB added: “The disruptions caused by these management and staff changes led to inconsistencies in decision-making and actions in the prison, and there was evidence that this contributed to the overall negative impact of the impending contract change. At the same time, Board members noted that prison staff did not appear to have the same levels of commitment to supporting and engaging with prisoners.

“It is noted that the transfer of prison management responsibilities from one private sector contractor to another had not happened before in the UK prison sector … The Board is left with the impression that there was very little guidance or experience about what had to be done to achieve this smoothly.”

The IMB report raised worries about the wellbeing of the citizens of Lowdham Grange during Serco’s leadership. These included increasing levels of aggression and self-harm, discovering numerous weapons, the emergence of “gang cultures”, and near to twenty percent of mandated drug tests coming back positive. Furthermore, the report highlighted that there were close to daily occurrences of people in the centre being affected by psychoactive substances.

A spokesperson for Sodexo-run Lowdham Grange said: “Since assuming responsibility for the prison in February 2023, we have been focused with healthcare, education and probation delivery partners on the daily operation of running the prison and on delivering the changes agreed as part of the new prison contract.

“Every death in a custodial setting is investigated by the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and therefore we are unable to comment further at this stage. Our thoughts remain with the families.”

A Serco spokesman said: “Managing HMP Lowdham Grange in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic was highly challenging. Additionally, this was the first time that a prison has been transferred from one private company to another and there are no doubt lessons to be learnt from everyone involved.”

Last week, Sodexo assumed control of Altcourse prison in Liverpool from G4S, with this decision making them the largest private prison manager in the UK, with seven prisons being managed. This comes after Lowdham Grange in Nottinghamshire, a category B training prison which holds over 800 men, has been operated by Serco since its introduction in 1998.

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