The Independent Monitoring Board for HMP Exeter has published its report for 2015. This concludes that the prison is well run and generally safe and that staff make a genuine effort to treat prisoners with dignity and respect. However, it faces formidable problems:
- The IMB is very concerned that staffing levels (as set by the Ministry of Justice) are too low to ensure optimum care of prisoners, especially the vulnerable, and to provide appropriate access to work, education and other positive activities. We believe this contributes to rising levels of violence and self harm which we have noted in the prison (as have IMBs elsewhere). Smuggling and use of New Psychoactive Substances (‘spice’) is an increasing problem that undoubtedly also increases violence.
- HMP Exeter is a local prison receiving both remand and sentenced prisoners, some for short periods. With many arrivals and departures daily it can be difficult to provide appropriate care on reception, especially to those arriving late from court.
- Many prisoners have mental health problems. The IMB is concerned that, owing to a national shortage of places, prisoners with serious mental health problems can wait for weeks, even months, for a bed in a secure mental health unit. Within the prison the IMB is concerned that mental health provision outside normal working hours is inadequate.
- The prison is located in Victorian buildings on a cramped inner city site. Some areas are dark and it is difficult to provide appropriate modern facilities. Lack of space limits the work and education opportunities that can be provided.
Notwithstanding these difficulties the report highlights some examples of notably good practice, such as:
- Some excellent and imaginative work opportunities and coherent planning by the education department so that courses offered in Exeter link with those in other Devon prisons to which many prisoners move on.
- Together with Devon County Council, the prison has risen well to the challenges of the Care Act 2014 so that prisoners with care needs are promptly assessed. For prisoners who have care needs but are not placed in the social care unit an excellent system of training other prisoners as buddies is working well and providing much-needed and appropriate support.
- Both the social care and segregation units offer particularly good and respectful care to prisoners with difficulties in challenging circumstances. The palliative care suite continues to provide excellent care to terminally ill prisoners.