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14 May 2024

Lewes prison under pressure: Howard League urges government to provide data on early release scheme  

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Lewes prison, published today (Tuesday 14 May).

Inspectors visited the prison, in East Sussex, in February and found rising violence, self-harm, drugs and a churn of men caught in a cycle of homelessness and offending.

Due to recent concerning inspections, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, notified the prison when inspectors would be visiting. But the jail was still found to be struggling significantly.

More than half of the men held in Lewes were on remand. Many men were locked in their cells for up to 22 hours a day, with only one-third of the population engaged in education or employment. Drugs were easily accessible, leading to increases in violence and use of force.

The inspection took place immediately after the introduction of the government’s early release scheme, and there were serious concerns around its implementation. Men were being released homeless, and planning for people released at short notice was described as chaotic.

In one case, a man who posed a risk to children had his release date brought forward despite having a history of stalking, domestic abuse and being subject to a restraining order. Another man, who had a recent history of suicidal thoughts and self-harm, was released from the segregation unit to homelessness despite appeals for the decision to be reversed and staff having serious concerns for his and the public’s safety. He was recalled to custody before the inspection had ended.

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is the latest in a seemingly never-ending line of inspection reports revealing major problems in a prison system that has been asked to do too much, with too little, for too long.

“Even when given warning that the inspectors are coming, how can a governor be expected to turn a prison around when there are chronic staff shortages and insufficient facilities to meet the needs of a growing number of men on remand arriving from London and Hampshire, where jails are already full?

“It is imperative that the government publishes data on the early release scheme’s operation and makes a commitment to transparency as a matter of urgency. While action to ease pressure on jails is necessary, this temporary measure is no substitute for what is really needed: a more sensible response to crime that puts fewer people behind bars and more money into services that can help them.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. The inspection report for Lewes prison will be available on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at:



Noor Khan

Press and Public Affairs Officer

Mobile: +44 (0)20 7241 7873





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