This article is dedicated to the three prisoners who have died in HMP Lowdham Grange during the period of Tom Fairclough’s writing:
Mr David Richards
Mr Rolandas Karbauskas
We’re writing this article to try and put pressure on the private prison administration at HMP Lowdham Grange to stop their current treatment of prisoners. Follow the link to take part in our letter campaign on Action Network You can find our demands at the bottom of the article, along with details on how to send a letter of solidarity and support to Tom, the prisoner who has provided the details for this article.
With more poverty comes more crime, and with more crime comes more incarcerated people. Both are part and parcel of the capitalist State’s approach to issues of its own creation, and the UK is no different. As of June 2022, there were approximately 89,250 people in prison, a number that exceeded the prison inspectorate's own projections (and only looks to be rising). On top of this, the number of incarcerated people serving long sentencing of over 5 and 10 years are increasing.
Prisons will always be a place of punishment, not rehabilitation, but what rehabilitative functions exist in UK prisons are also degrading. As of 2022/23, it has been reported through inspections that many prisons are overcrowded, provide those incarcerated little time out of their cells, and leave them in danger of violence and their own poor mental health.
One such failing prison is HMP Lowdham Grange. This category B site was recently described as having an atmosphere of ‘uncertainty and anxiety’ and to be falling significantly on incarcerated people’s safety. Originally under the management of Serco, the prison has been run by Sodexo from February 2023, a company mostly known for food service but which has a branch for prison facilities. Despite claims of change uttered in response to a BBC article highlighting the prisons’ failures, letters from the inside seem to indicate that very little progress has actually been made.
The Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee (IWOC), a branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), has been in contact with Tom Fairclough, a person currently incarcerated at HMP Lowdham Grange. Tom has so far been in prison for six years, currently awaiting his CAT C status. This would allow him to move from a higher security CAT B prison to one with open conditions and more opportunities for gaining skills and qualifications Tom has detailed his struggle with obtaining treatment for his ADHD, getting a proper education and work experience to assist his life outside of prison, and with an overall lack of purposeful activity. In the letters to the IWOC, Tom has repeatedly stated his belief in the ability of prisons to rehabilitate prisoners so they can work in aid of society, but sees the current prison system as failing that.
His letters describe abysmal conditions in the wake of regime change as the prison’s ownership moves from one private company to another. A peaceful protest was held within the prison to protest its failings, but more will have to be done to protect those inside. Tom informs us that three suicides have occurred there in recent months. These are people failed by the carceral system.
The prison industrial complex tends to self-perpetuate, a point Alexander Berkman made in The ABC of Communist Anarchism almost one hundred years ago:
'Is it to the interest of the policeman, the detective, the sheriff, the judge, the lawyer, the prison contractors, wardens, deputies, keepers, and the thousands of others who live by the ‘administration of justice’ to do away with crime? Supposing there were no criminals, could those ‘administrators’ hold their jobs? Could you be taxed for their support? Would they not have to do some honest work?'
This is all the more true when there's profit to be made, as Tom stresses in his letters about his frustrations with Sodexo and the staff, who he feels are simply looking to make money off the situation. There is a lot of money to be made from crime, which can be seen in the steady import of privately owned prisons from the USA into the UK from the 1990s onwards. There are now 16 private prisons in the UK, 14 of which are in England and Wales. They are in the minority of prisons in the country, but through a cut-throat commitment to profit margins, they exacerbate the worst aspects of the carceral system, with 77% being overcrowded and suffering a worse rate of violence within their walls. In a private prison, the State can palm off its responsibilities to a third party whilst still appearing to commit to the maintenance and expansion of prisons. It is a particularly odious, and profitable, portion of our carceral 'justice system.'
All of these facts bear out in Tom’s letters. In a report to the IWOC, he stated the main failings of the prison as such:
'Healthcare: (not dealing with prisoner’s medical conditions); not treating prisoners with the medical diagnoses that have been presented to them by a prisoner (i.e. Tom Fairclough); lack of compassion and understanding from staff in order to get to the root of a prisoner’s issues in order to rehabilitate them.
Education: not providing prisoners with educational courses to help them progress; not having programs in place for jobs, education, etc; classrooms empty for six years that I have personally witnessed; more intent on giving out exams as the prison gets paid for them; putting educational classes together for people (prisoners to gain qualifications in order to get into employment. Not enough money is put into getting qualified teachers to work).
Offender manager unit (OMU): Not putting together a productive sentence plan in order to rehabilitate; no help with education (work, offending behaviour programmes); not working closely enough with prisoners to get to the root of their problems, i.e. why they commit crime and how to help successfully reintegrate back into society; more focused on paperwork than putting the right building blocks in place.'
All of these are areas with which Tom has intimate experience. Despite having an ADHD diagnosis from his General Practitioner (GP) before being incarcerated, when he asked for support with this condition, he was met with indifference and procrastination. In a separate letter, he recalls verbatim an ongoing conversation with the people supposed to handle his ADHD, who provide a list of excuses and reasons as to why not much support can be provided right now. When medical specialists (named in letters as Jonathan Dook and Gillian Crankshaw) finally had a conversation with him, they showed up at his cell and then stigmatised him, forgoing any questions about his access needs:
'But they know I was asked questions from Gillian Crankshaw — not to do with how it affects my day to day life, not what do I struggle with in my day to day life, not what’s difficult in terms of the way I structure my life, etc. More on the lines of drink, drugs, violence. Even if I was all three of those things, what’s that got to do with me having ADHD which has been diagnosed with my doctor [who stated] it is linked to my anxiety which I have been on medication for in the past?'
Despite his GP having provided information of a diagnosis, the prison staff informed Tom they would need to do their own tests so they could diagnose him themselves. This greatly upset Tom as it felt like it was a long-winded attempt to deny him care. Tom repeatedly expresses a desire to be on medication to help him with his ADHD, and the fact the prison appears to be refusing to give him this causes him considerable frustration and stress. As he mentions in his letter, Tom’s GP stated that his ADHD was linked with his anxiety. The prison’s treatment of his desire to manage these two disabilities bordered on obstruction.
In terms of education, not much was better. Tom originally entered the education system within the prison in order to get basic English & Maths qualifications, which he was led to understand would open the doors to other courses that would help his employment outside of prison. In his own words:
'When I had spent several months in the units I thought I would apply for a business studies course to improve my chances of gaining employment and improving my CV. I have the documentation on my contribution papers with my sentence plan objectives which state quite clearly: "sentence plan objective (business studies)". From 2017–2023 I have not heard anything; nothing was put in place by my OMU either. His name is Brian Hickling, he is supposed to put together a sentence plan that enables the offender to rehabilitate successfully into society and also help them in terms of education work to enable the offender to integrate back into society. When I sent him emails on our in cell computers he didn’t even attempt to look into my enquiries when I put in applications to education for courses, etc.'
Whatever the stated mission of the prison might be, Tom went for several years without any sign of being provided educational support. Later letters reveal that whilst he did start and complete courses, he often did so independently. Documents provided to the IWOC show his applications for several courses in the prison, from Business studies to Creative Writing. None of these applications have been processed since they were sent.
Whilst readers might note a lot of these issues took place under the management of Serco (and Sodexo describes most of the problems happening in that period), nothing in Tom’s letters to the IWOC give the impression that there has been any improvement under new management. Indeed, one of the reasons staff members provide for not helping Tom is the ‘transition,’ presumably this period of handover from Serco to Sodexo. A report by the Independent Monitoring Board noted that the changeover caused a large exodus of staff, leading to inexperienced staff taking over and lack of night staff cover, amongst other things. If anything, the changeover has led to a deteriorating situation.
Having been failed by the OMU and the education system, Tom’s attempts to independently learn didn’t fare any better. He describes a particularly egregious incident with the prison library:
'When I used to attend the library, I heard information from prisoners who worked as library assistants that the man who ran the library, George, would have to order the books rather than get public donations as HMPs [His Majesty’s Prisons, how all prisons in the UK are labelled] do. I would regularly attend and notice the books on shelves that have been the same for the six years I have spent in this establishment. When I asked the library assistant they told me that George personally keeps back the books as he doesn’t think prisoners should get the opportunity as we don’t deserve them. I was shocked and angry as one, he works there and does not own the place, and secondly, a library is a prison fundamental. What does it say about the word reform if small minded people like George don’t give prisoners these opportunities? He is a disgrace and needs to be removed from his position.'
That the staff feel confident in preventing the learning and development of prisoners because of the stigma against them only goes to show how the carceral system is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tom repeatedly condemns this in his letters, stating, ‘I hope readers reading these reports can understand why statistics in England and Wales are high as prisoners have these disgraceful people in charge. They are not serving you with integrity; they use this place as a cash cow.’
Nowhere is this ‘cash cow’ attitude clearer than in Tom’s dealings with the OMU. One particular verbal dismantling of this stands out in the letters, quoted below at length:
'OMU department [officers] Brian Hickling/Janine Emma Norton, with regards to sentence plan[s], do little in terms of putting a program together to help a prisoner’s rehabilitation. I have completed many courses but I have done this off my own back. They haven’t come to me with the correct building blocks in order to rehabilitate and become a productive citizen. If they did, they are smart enough [...] to know they would be out of work! Brian Hickling, what can I say about this man — ‘Pass the Buck’ Brian should be his nickname! This man is a disgrace to the public! With regards to his job role he has never done anything with regards to sentence plan, education inquiries/work placement/mental health. His job is administration, zero in place. When I made enquiries with regards to education […]he passed the buck time and time again! He even mentioned this to me on a call I had with him; it’s even on my contribution papers with business studies since around 2017/18 onwards, I can dig these out for you with factual documentation. Question is, are they serving the public? From what I have seen of its admin work, is that really stopping the cycle of crime in England and Wales? I found these two people to be pompous and not in touch with reality. Janine Emma Norton I found to be pompous and a game player, not someone who cares about people or helping the public. I can conclude that their roles are box ticking exercises not putting things in place for prisoners or fundamentally serving the public. This is my conclusion.'
Throughout the letters, Tom argues for not only the consideration of his humanity and that of his fellow prisoners, but also of those harmed by the actions of those incarcerated, and argues that a system which does not work to rehabilitate those who have caused harm will only re-traumatise and further harm other people outside of prisons later down the line. The IWOC member in contact with Tom said that ‘Since a friend and I got in contact with Tom, we’ve enjoyed a lively and consistent conversation with him. Tom is a passionate, intelligent individual, whose deep love & knowledge for sports, football in particular, is always clear in our correspondence. That he and others like him are being let down by private prisons is a shame, and an injustice.’ With recent reports such as one from Inside Time revealing that staff at HMP Lowdham Grange have abused prisoners, the urgency for us to show solidarity with prisoners has never been greater.
Therefore, we are calling on comrades to take part in a solidarity action by writing to the Prison Director, Sodexo’s Press Office, and the Independent Monitoring Board to query. We are issuing demands for the Prison management to:
- Address the delays to Tom obtaining his CAT C status, and with his request to be transferred to another prison.
- To take Tom’s ADHD seriously, acknowledge his pre-existing diagnosis, and give him the appropriate treatment. It is not acceptable that medical professionals are stigmatising Tom by ignoring his condition and pushing questions about alcohol and drug use.
- Assist Tom in finding work within the prison and signing up to education courses, which are either being denied or underfunded.
- Have the Offender Management Unit produce a productive sentence plan.
- Properly address the failures at HMP Lowdham Grange as identified in a recent inspection and by the press.
- That the prison put an end to the censorship of reading materials in the prison library. The prison system already censures reading material according to its content; it is not for prison employees to go further and decide whether prisoners are deserving of allowed material.
You can use the Action Network tool to send a letter to HMP Lowdham Grange, Sodexo, and the Independent Monitoring Board, and put pressure on the prison to help Tom and other prisoners. We also ask you to send letters of support to Tom to let him and other prisoners at Lowdham Grange know that you’re on their side. You can send letters to Tom either by mail or by using emailaprisoner.com using the address below:
HMP Lowdham Grange