HMP Exeter – improvement in staff-prisoner relationships remains a priority

Read the report: HMP Exeter

Improvements in conditions for prisoners at HMP Exeter, a Victorian prison holding men from across south west England, were hampered by a high turnover of leadership and frontline staff and problems with staff culture, inspectors found.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons visited Exeter in March 2021, when the prison held around 430 men. Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, recalled that at the last full inspection, in May 2018, safety had been so poor the prison was subject to a rarely used Urgent Notification.

A follow-up Independent Review of Progress in 2019 found that improvements were “too little too late”.

Mr Taylor said: “Since then, further progress has been hampered by high turnover of staff at all levels. At this visit [in 2021], some key leadership posts had just been filled and one-third of frontline staff had been in post for less than a year.”

In one of the key concerns raised by the visit, the report noted: “Despite a clear vision for a safe, decent and secure establishment, we found many areas where outcomes needed to improve. Many of these deficiencies were linked to the staff culture we observed and the associated lack of confidence among staff, many of whom were inexperienced. Staff-prisoner relationships were lacking.

“Some examples of this included unresponsiveness to prisoner requests and enquiries, insufficient care for prisoners at risk of self-harm or suicide and indifference to the needs of prisoners with physical disabilities, one of whom we found located on the fourth landing of a wing.”

Mr Taylor added:

“The governor had a clear vision for the establishment, which was focused on improving staff culture, but significant progress was still needed in order to create a safer, more decent and secure establishment. We found that relationships between prisoners and staff were not good enough and many prisoners were frustrated at the difficulties they faced, for example, when making reasonable requests. Prisoners from a black or minority ethnic background had very poor perceptions of staff.”

Inspectors were encouraged that during the COVID-19 pandemic violence had reduced and use of force by staff was reasonably well managed.

Action to reduce the supply of illicit substances was beginning to have an impact, though there had been little progress in addressing long-standing deficiencies in the care of prisoners at risk of self-harm or suicide. There had been six self-inflicted deaths since 2018.

Health care was reasonable and access to clinics was improving and good partnership arrangements had helped address a recent outbreak of COVID-19.

Time out of cell for most prisoners was limited to about 90 minutes on most days and less on Fridays and at weekends. Work opportunities had been confined to essential roles only and education was being delivered through work packs completed in cells. While some prisoners made good progress, others told inspectors of difficulties in getting access to teachers or to the resources needed to complete the work.

The offender management unit was well led and had a very small backlog of work. However, there was very little face-to-face contact with prisoners and prison offender managers relied on telephone calls and contact made through cell doors. The report noted that a mental health review of a prisoner in crisis had taken place through a locked door. The prisoner was 18 years old and deaf.

Overall, Mr Taylor said:

“Despite some progress since our last inspection and during the pandemic, outcomes for prisoners at Exeter still required improvement. All leaders and managers needed to commit fully to the governor’s vision for the establishment with the development of staff capability based on good quality relationships with prisoners remaining a priority.”

– End –

Notes to editors

  1. Read the report: HMP Exeter. This report was published on 27 April 2021.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. Read about scrutiny visits (SVs) and the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
  4. On pages 4-5 of the report you can read facts and history about HMP Exeter.
  5. On pages 6-8 you can read key concerns and recommendations and two examples of notable positive practice identified in this scrutiny visit.
  6. This scrutiny visit took place on 9 and 16-17 March 2021.
  7. Please contact – 07880 787452 – if you would like more information.