IRP Exeter

The prison inspectors have made a follow up  IRP to Exeter after their inspection in May 2018. In the summary of their report they said:

“At our inspection of HMP Exeter in May 2018 we made the following judgements about outcomes for prisoners.

  • Safety : Poor,  (2016 not sufficiently good)
  • Respect: Not sufficiently good, (2016 not sufficiently good)
  • Purposeful activity: Not sufficiently good, (2016 not sufficiently good)
  • Rehabilitation & release planning: Reasonably good , (2016 not sufficiently good)

HMP Exeter is a category B local and resettlement prison that holds prisoners sentenced by the courts of Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset. There are also prisoners from further afield on transfer from other prisons. The number of prisoners held at the time of this independent review visit was 476.

The last full inspection was carried out in May 2018. Our judgements reflected a continued failure to deliver good or reasonably good outcomes for prisoners in three of our four healthy prison tests. Of most concern was the further decline in positive outcomes in the critical area of safety which attracted our lowest possible assessment of ‘poor’. This was despite my comment in the 2016 report warning of inevitably poor outcomes in the future if the establishment failed to address the issues of violence, drugs and the lack of a sufficiently purposeful regime.

There had been six self-inflicted deaths between the 2016 and 2018 inspections, and self-harm had risen by 40%. Despite the high levels of vulnerability, self-harm and suicide among prisoners at Exeter, cell call bells were routinely ignored by staff. The rate of assaults between prisoners was the highest we had seen in a local prison in recent years and had more than doubled since the inspection in 2016. Illicit drugs were still prevalent and living conditions for many in the prison were very poor. The lack of progress at the establishment, and in particular the sharp deterioration in safety outcomes, was so concerning that I decided to invoke the Urgent Notification Protocol.

At this independent review of progress we found that the prison’s response had been good or reasonably good in almost half the recommendations we reviewed. However, there had been no meaningful progress against three of the 13 recommendations, two of which had been main recommendations in the last report. There had also been insufficient progress against four of the recommendations we were reviewing.

Overall levels of violence had decreased since the 2018 inspection but incidents between prisoners, some of which were serious, remained higher than in similar prisons. A number of actions had been taken to reduce violence and the strategy to reduce violence further in the future was promising. The use of unregulated segregation had been eradicated, and governance of the use of force was improving. However, despite a rise in the already high use of illicit drugs in the establishment, there had been an inexplicable failure to develop a comprehensive drug strategy which, if properly implemented, would certainly contribute to a reduction in violence. A draft strategy was being put together and it is essential that this is now treated as a priority.

Relationships between staff and prisoners were improving and improvement processes were in place to monitor cell bell responses. Although efforts had been made to improve living conditions, improvements had been slow and standards were still not sufficiently high.

Despite Exeter being a pilot for the offender management in custody (OMIC) programme, progress had been too slow and the quality of interactions was variable. Progress had been good in the important areas of prisoner applications and complaints. However, in contrast and despite it being a main recommendation at our inspection, equality and diversity work had not been prioritised at all. We were also concerned that the establishment’s future plans in this area relied too heavily on an enthusiastic middle manager and did not give appropriate responsibility to the most senior managers to drive this important work.

There had not been sufficient progress against the recommendations relating to the regime and work. Attendance at education and work, some of which remained mundane, had not been prioritised. Purposeful activities and domestic periods were scheduled at the same time on certain days; this left some prisoners having to decide between a shower or work.

The lack of progress in over half the 13 recommendations that we reviewed could be characterised by the statement ‘too little too late’. The purpose of the Urgent Notification Protocol, which is only used where I have serious concerns about the treatment of and conditions for prisoners, is to initiate immediate remedial action. At Exeter, in too many critical areas, this simply had not happened. It was not clear whether this was as a result of a conscious decision not to prioritise our recommendations, bureaucratic inertia, or whether managers were simply overwhelmed or uncertain as to how to set about making the much-needed improvements. Whatever the reason, there had not been a sufficient sense of urgency in the prison’s response to a number of key recommendations. The establishment was required to produce an action plan for the Secretary of State following the Urgent Notification, but a number of the deadlines in this plan had not been met on time.

Nevertheless, there had been a proactive response to some recommendations in critical areas and there are now credible plans to make further improvements in the future. It is unfortunate that the prison had not devised and implemented some of these plans earlier as they would no doubt have led to a more positive assessment at this review of progress.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                                                 April 2019

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

Return to Exeter

To read the full IRP click the link below:

HMP Exeter IRP (498.17 kB), Report on an independent review of progress at HMP Exeter (8-10 April 2019)

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