HMP Exeter: Independent Monitoring Board commends improvements in spite of significant Covid-19 challenges, but some concerns remain

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP Exeter – made up of volunteers appointed by ministers to monitor whether prisoners are treated fairly and humanely – today published its annual report for 2021.The report covers a period when Covid-19 resulted in significant social and physical constraints across the country: in a closed environment like the prison, this resulted in a very restricted daily regime. Whilst 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 has again been impressed by the prison’s response to, and management of, the significant challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and notes how settled the prison was, given the severe restrictions.

In its 2021 annual report, the Exeter IMB noted progress, since its last report, in the following areas:

  • the management, governance and assurance of the use of force
  • staffing and supervision arrangements in the segregation unit, and routine attendance of healthcare staff at segregation reviews
  • efforts to prevent illicit items entering the prison
  • improvements to accommodation and living conditions with increased cleanliness in communal areas
  • increased availability and use of video visits (Purple Visits) to enable prisoners to stay connected with families and friends.

However, the Board remains concerned about:

  • the recruitment and retention of staff against a background of a strong local employment market in other public service roles
  • limited opportunities, activities and experiences to support rehabilitation and resettlement of prisoners
  • a backlog in staff training (an outcome of the pandemic)
  • the national and local systems and processes to deal effectively with prisoners’ property.
  • the management and oversight of the Challenge Support and Intervention Programme.
  • a lack of stability within the senior management team has disrupted efforts to take forward some improvements.
  • the arrangements for, and effectiveness of, the prisoner induction programme.

 

IMB Exeter Chair, Jenny Ellis, said:

“2021 was again 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, against this challenging background, the prison has managed to make some significant progress, but there are still improvements to be made in a number of key areas”.