The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP Exeter today published its annual report for 2020.
The Board has been impressed by the prison’s response to, and management of, the significant challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and note how settled the prison was, given the severe restrictions. Whilst the restrictions in the daily regime were important for safety, this came at a cost to prisoners in terms of reduced opportunities to engage in education, work and training, social interaction and other activities. Against this background, the prison continued to try and promote improvement while actively reducing opportunity for virus transmission.
The Board reports the following:
- Some aspects of safety have improved. Prisoner-on-prisoner violence appears to have reduced and the prison has become a safer environment. Commendable efforts were also made to interrupt the supply of illicit items and drugs in to the prison.
- Efforts to recruit and retain staff were successful, but the impact of this has been undermined by COVID-19 and staff sickness, or the need to isolate or shield. Once again, the senior leadership team has not been stable with a number of posts filled on a temporary basis. This hampers the efforts to drive forward improvements.
- Increased expectations about cleanliness has resulted in improvements in communal areas. The scheduling of major maintenance works has also seen improvements to showers and some residential accommodation.
However, the Board remains concerned about:
- The case management of the ACCT process
- The provision of the keyworker scheme has not met expected delivery. The Board hopes that in 2021 keyworker activities will be given the high priority required, for this scheme to become sufficiently embedded and start positively impacting on prisoners’ lives.
- The high number of prisoners received at Exeter with existing mental health issues. Exeter is not well equipped to look after such prisoners and because places are limited, referrals to secure units often take too long. Prisoners with mental health conditions are often held in inappropriate conditions and the risks to staff and other prisoners are increased.
IMB Exeter Chair, Jenny Ellis said:
“2020 was an extremely unusual monitoring year and our report should be read with that in mind. The IMB regrets, but understands, the need for prisoners to have been locked in-cell for so many hours each day. However the IMB hopes that the Prison Service will evaluate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on prison operation in order to learn lessons for the future and to retain those positive initiatives that have improved the lives and experiences for prisoners. There are some concerns that prisons will continue to operate restricted regimes “as the new normal” and for longer than is necessary and the IMB hopes that the right balance between managing COVID-19 risks and providing sufficient meaningful activity and time out of cell, is restored as soon as it is safe. The Board is pleased to have noted a number of improvements since the last report, but also that there are still improvements to be made in a number of key areas”.