HMIP Reports, HMP Exeter

The prison was given an inspection in the summer of 2016, the full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said:

HMP Exeter is a category B local prison that accepts all adult and young offenders committed to prison by the courts in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. Prisoners are also sent to Exeter from further afield, and at the time of this inspection there were 490 being held there.

This inspection found that there had been a clear decline in outcomes for prisoners in three of the four healthy prison tests. The symptoms of this decline were clear to see. The number of violent incidents was far higher than at other local prisons and than at the time of our previous inspection. Too many prisoners felt unsafe in the prison, there were high levels of self-harm and there were serious concerns about some aspects of health care  provision. Prisoners spent too much time locked in their cells, so that too few managed to take part in activities, and there were some real weaknesses in offender management.

Nevertheless, we were impressed by the determination of the management team to lead the staff in delivering a service to prisoners in what were undoubtedly challenging circumstances. It was clear that the biggest challenge facing the prison was that at the time of the inspection there were insufficient staff to run a predictable and resilient regime. We were told that the prison was suffering a shortfall of 13 prison officers and that on the penultimate day of the inspection there were only 29 officers on duty. This situation was apparently exacerbated by the long recruitment process for new staff, which far exceeds the notice period for departing members and means that there is no prospect of immediate respite. Both the governor and chair of the IMB separately expressed frustration at the delays caused by the recruitment process. The prison had also lost staff to other local employers, including Devon and Cornwall Constabulary. The line between what was safe for prisoners and staff and what would be unsafe was a narrow one, and the management team at Exeter had to make fine judgements around this on a daily basis.

The inspection found that the staff shortage was having a tangible effect on outcomes for prisoners, with too many unable to attend education or activities. We carefully considered whether the management team could have done more to mitigate the impact of staff shortages, and although there were some issues that were not directly related to this matter and could be addressed, it was difficult to see how outcomes could have been significantly better given the staffing shortfalls.

If the shortage of staff provided the backdrop to the difficulties at HMP Exeter, the foreground was filled by the challenges of drugs, violence and prisoners suffering from mental health issues. These were, of course, intertwined, and each in their own way was exacerbated by the impact of staff shortages.

Despite all these difficulties, the details of which are set out in the body of this report, it is notable that prisoners told us that the staff treated them  with respect, and it was clear to us that the relationship between prisoners and staff was fundamentally sound. It was to the enormous credit of senior managers and staff alike that they were persisting in their determination to do what they could to provide a decent and respectful environment for the men in their care.

However, there was a real and troubling concern that the situation at HMP Exeter was fragile. The reality was that outcomes for prisoners had declined markedly since the previous inspection. Unless the regime at the establishment could be improved , violence reduced and the prevalence of drugs and other contraband addressed, further declines would be almost inevitable.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM   December2016                                                                        

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Exeter

To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below:

  • HMP Exeter (1.54 MB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Exeter (15-26 August 2016)
  • HMP Exeter, Unannounced inspection of HMP Exeter (29 July – 9 August 2013)
  • HMP Exeter, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP Exeter (5-7 July 2011)
  • HMP Exeter, Announced inspection of HMP Exeter (12-16 October 2009)
  • HMP Exeter, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP Exeter (16-18 October 2007)