The Independent Monitoring Board for HMP Exeter has published its Annual Report for 2016. This concludes that the prison is a well-run establishment in which staff make a genuine effort to treat inmates with dignity and respect.
However, in 2016 safety has been compromised by a number of pressures on the prison, especially low staff numbers and increased use by prisoners of illicit drugs and New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), including ‘spice’. There was an increase in violence during the year, both towards staff and by prisoner on prisoner. Self-harm among prisoners also increased and staff morale has been affected.
Inadequate staffing levels have also affected prisoners’ access to work, education and other positive activities.
The IMB is concerned that, owing to a national shortage of psychiatric beds, prisoners with serious mental health problems can wait for weeks, even months, for a place in a secure psychiatric unit.
The slow provision of maintenance and delays in rectifying reported issues have exacerbated overcrowding, and significantly affected the Segregation Unit. On several occasions over the year more than 40 cells were out of action awaiting repair by the prison’s maintenance contractor, Carillion.
Sadly there were 4 deaths believed to be self-inflicted in 2016. The Prisons Ombudsman has investigated these deaths and made recommendations which the prison has been quick to implement.
Notwithstanding these difficulties the Board is pleased to report that 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 and support to their families. The prison became a smoke free prison in April 2016 and this was handled well, with appropriate support provided for prisoners. More generally, staff continue to do their best under very trying circumstances.
The Board is pleased that Exeter has been selected to be a Pathfinder pilot prison and hopes that the additional resources this will bring to the prison will help alleviate some of the problems which we have raised in our Report.