Ofsted inspectors have found a decline in treatment and conditions for men at Lewes Prison, despite the establishment being in ‘special measures’ since 2016.

In a report, Peter Clarke, HM chief inspector of prisons, said performance had declined in three areas – respect, purposeful activity, rehabilitation and release planning.

The prison was previously inspected in January 2016, when issues were identified in safety and purposeful activity.

In the findings, Mr Clarke said the resulting decline since then suggested a ‘systemic failure’ within the prison service.

He said:

“This was a very disappointing inspection.

“The detail contained in this report brings into question the utility of ‘special measures’, if a prison can decline so badly when supposedly benefitting from them for a full two years.

“It also validates the Inspectorate’s new Independent Reviews of Progress, which are specifically designed to give ministers a report of progress against previous inspection reports at struggling prisons such as Lewes.

“A new governor had taken up post shortly before this inspection, and she will need support from her own management team and from more senior levels in HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) if the decline at HMP Lewes is to be arrested and reversed.”

Since the last inspection, it was found there had been five self-inflicted deaths, and incidents of harm had tripled.

Inspectors also reported ‘no clear strategy’ for the delivery of learning and skills, and weak strategic management.

Phil Copple, HMPPS director general of prisons, said:

“After the previous inspection in January 2016, the staffing position at Lewes deteriorated and there were a number of disturbances. The prison clearly needed central support to tackle the challenges they faced.

“Staff from other establishments supported the prison, and although there has been some progress in some areas, it has not been as swift or as comprehensive as we would have hoped.

“Safety is the governor’s clear priority. We are providing extra support from our central safety team to drive further improvements, and the prison has introduced x-ray scanners and netting to combat drugs.

“The establishment is well-placed to make further progress and will focus on the Inspectorate’s recommendations to do so.”