PRISON chiefs have been accused of “systemic” failures as standards continued to plummet.

Inspectors visited Lewes Prison, and the treatment and conditions for inmates fell even while the service was in special measures.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons said his findings from visits in January were “deeply troubling”.

“The findings are indicative of systemic failure within the prison service,” he said.

HMP Lewes was judged on four criteria including respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation, release planning and safety.

Inspectors had given prison chiefs a 45-point action plan in August last year but found that 39 had not been completed and the majority required “major development”.

In the report, HM Chief Inspector Peter Clarke said: “This was a very disappointing inspection.

“The findings of this inspection (in January 2019) were deeply troubling and indicative of systemic failure within the prison service.

“We found that in three areas – respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning – there had been a decline in performance.

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“What makes the decline at Lewes even more difficult to understand is the fact that two years ago we put the prison into what is described as ‘special measures’.”

He said that the prison’s safety performance was not “so poor as to drag the assessment to the lowest possible level” but said standards were heading in that direction.

There were five self-inflicted deaths by inmates since the previous inspection in 2016, while the rate of prisoners harming themself had tripled.

Violence levels were similar to the previous report in 2016, but there were more attacks on staff, and a quarter of prisoners told inspectors they felt unsafe.

A key factor was the rise in drugs being smuggled into the prison, and devices to detect illegal contraband hadn’t worked since April last year.

Mr Clarke found that there were “weaknesses” in healthcare provision and found there was “no clear strategy” for giving effective lessons and skills training.

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He said: “The results of this inspection clearly showed that, far from delivering better outcomes, two years of ‘special measures’ had coincided with a serious decline in performance.

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

A new governor took up post shortly before the inspection in January, and Mr Clarke said she will need support from her team and from Her Majesty’s Prison Service to reverse the situation.

Director General of Prisons Phil Copple said the prison had faced problems with staffing and disturbances in January 2016.

It was placed in special measures a year later.

He said staff from other prisons were drafted in to help, but admitted in some areas “progress has not been as swift or as comprehensive as we would have hoped for”.