Lowdham Grange prison permanently taken over after 'very specific issues' uncovered

The Category B Lowdham Grange prison in Lowdham, Nottinghamshire
-Credit: (Image: Nottingham Post)

The government will permanently take over the running of a troubled Nottinghamshire prison, ministers have announced. HMP Lowdham Grange has been criticised for deteriorating safety, prisoner conditions and staffing levels.

The Prison Service intervened at the Category B prison in December 2023, installing a new governor to improve safety and taking over for an interim period. Terms have now been agreed for the facility to be permanently handed over from current operator Sodexo, with the transfer expected later this summer.

The prison, located in Lowdham village, can hold nearly 900 men who have been sentenced to more than four years. A report by watchdog HM Chief Inspector of Prisons in January said: “The prison was not safe, with high levels of violence and easy access to illicit drugs.”

Prison staff will remain in their posts during the transfer, and the Prison Service says it’s working to bring in experienced officers from other facilities. Prisons Minister Edward Argar said: “Given the very specific issues at HMP Lowdham Grange, we took swift action to step in and improve conditions and safety by providing extra support.

“The majority of private prisons perform well, including others Sodexo runs, but it has become clear that taking over permanently is the best way to ensure that improvements continue.”

Sodexo was awarded a 10-year contract to run the prison in February 2023. It will cover the public costs of the ‘step in’ action, as well as future operating costs until 2028 when a five-year break could have been triggered by the prison service.

Five prisoners took their own lives in the facility in 2023, and a report by inspectors found that levels of self-harm were high and were continuing to rise. A search at the prison over Christmas discovered 600 litres of hooch – illegally brewed alcohol.

Inspectors were told about “very poor behaviour” by some staff and found that leaders had failed to investigate serious concerns about the use of force against prisoners. Between February and December 2023, 127 staff had resigned, leaving the prison short-staffed.

A spokesperson for Sodexo said: “Negotiations are ongoing with the associated costs for Sodexo anticipated within its fiscal 2024 guidance. It is anticipated that the transition will take effect in summer 2024.

“HMP Lowdham Grange is a prison facing a unique set of challenges. We have worked tirelessly and very closely with HMPPS since February 2023 to seek to improve stability and deliver the significant improvements expected. However, we believe, in these specific circumstances, that this move is in the best interests of all concerned.

“At this time, we are focused on working alongside the MoJ and HMPPS to ensure a safe, secure and seamless transfer for everyone who lives and works at the prison. We wholeheartedly thank our colleagues at the prison who work exceptionally hard in often difficult circumstances.

“Sodexo has delivered justice services in the UK for more than 30 years and we are proud of our prisons and our teams. We remain committed to delivering high-quality prison services which deliver positive outcomes for prisoners and our communities.”