HMIP Reports, HMP Exeter

The prison was given an inspection in the May 2018, the full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. The Inspectorate invoked the “Urgent Notification Protocol” immediately after their inspection based upon the findings during the inspection. In their latest report the inspectors said:

“HMP Exeter is a category B local and resettlement prison that holds men sentenced by the courts of Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset. There are also prisoners from further afield on transfer from other prisons. At the time of this inspection there were some 430 men in the prison.

The last inspection was carried out in August 2016. On that occasion our judgement was that outcomes for prisoners were not sufficiently good across all four of our healthy prison tests. This represented a serious decline in performance from the previous inspection in the three areas of safety, respect and resettlement. At that time the prison was facing severe staff shortages, but despite the impact this was having on the prison, we noted the determination of managers to drive improvements. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to make the following observation in our report, published in December 2016: ‘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.’

Unfortunately, despite a significant increase in staffing levels, my fears have proved founded. A further sharp deterioration, particularly in the key area of safety, has been so severe that I have invoked the Urgent Notification protocol for only the second time since it was ratified in November 2017. As required by the protocol I wrote to the Secretary of State on 30 May 2018. My letter (see Appendix V) sets out my significant concerns about the treatment and conditions in which prisoners were being held at the time of this inspection, and my rationale for using the process. This full report details the serious and deeply concerning failures underpinning my decision. As required by the protocol, the Secretary of State has responded within the required 28 days and published an initial response action plan for improvement. A full action plan will be produced following publication of this report.

This unannounced inspection, carried out a mere 21 months after the last, found that not only did many prisoners feel unsafe but that the prison was in fact significantly less safe than at the last inspection, was less safe than similar prisons, and had reached a position where it now inevitably attracted our lowest possible assessment of ‘poor’. There had been six self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection, and apparently another within weeks of this inspection. Self-harm had risen by 40%. The rate of assaults between prisoners was the highest we have seen in a local prison in recent years, and had more than doubled since the last inspection. Illicit drugs were still prevalent, with 60% of prisoners telling us it was easy to obtain drugs and around a quarter testing positive for drugs. One in seven prisoners told us they had developed a problem with drugs since entering the prison.

Living conditions for many in the prison were very poor, and my sense was that the situation had come to be regarded by many staff as normal. The report includes examples of where inspectors found a clear lack of empathy between staff and some very vulnerable prisoners. Whether they felt overwhelmed by the scale of need or had just come to accept the poor conditions endured by many prisoners as inevitable is far from clear, and it would be wrong to reach a general conclusion on this without further in-depth study. Whatever the causes, though, the results were clear to see. During the inspection I entered a cell from which a particularly strong smell of drugs was emanating. It contained two prisoners who were clearly heavily intoxicated by drugs, surrounded by obvious signs of smoking (in a supposedly ‘smoke-free’ jail), food waste and other detritus. Sadly, the staff on the wing did not seem to regard this as exceptional.

In light of the very high levels of vulnerability, self-harm and suicide among prisoners at Exeter, it was shocking to see that cell call bells were routinely ignored by staff. The prison’s own recording system and observations by inspectors proved this to be the case. There was clearly a lack of management oversight or intervention in this key aspect of prisoner safety. The situation was exacerbated by the poor condition of many cells, some of which were not fit to hold prisoners.

Following the 2016 inspection we made 14 recommendations about safety , including two main recommendations. Neither of the main recommendations had been achieved, and only three of the 14 recommendations had been achieved. It was of particular concern that our previous recommendation about the governance of the use of force by staff had been largely ignored. There was a large amount of missing paperwork and totally inadequate intervention by managers. The details of this are set out in the body of this report.

Despite all the challenges faced by the prison, however, it was only right to acknowledge that there had been progress since the last inspection in some areas. The prison was now much better staffed, the regime was generally more predictable, and there had been improvements in health care and resettlement activity. The latter, in particular, showed a marked improvement, and attracted an improved assessment of ‘reasonably good.’

It is important to understand that the invocation of the Urgent Notification protocol was not simply a consequence of the prison’s poor response to our previous recommendations. We come to our judgements based solely on the evidence gathered during the course of an inspection. The response to previous recommendations does, however, give an indication of the degree of confidence I can have that the prison is capable of a better response in the future. My judgement was that without significant intervention and support from HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), the urgently needed improvements to safety in HMP Exeter were unlikely to materialise. This was directly relevant to my decision to use the Urgent Notification protocol.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
July 2018
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 (2.43 MB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Exeter (14–24 May 2018)
  • 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)