Chief Inspector of Prisons demands urgent action from Justice Secretary

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons has put the Justice Secretary publicly on notice that he must explain how conditions at HMP Exeter will be improved as a matter of urgency. Inspectors found disturbingly high levels of violence and self-harm and a serious failure to tackle safety issues.

Peter Clarke told David Gauke safety at HMP Exeter was “unequivocally poor”, prompting him to invoke the Urgent Notification (UN) protocol, under which the Justice Secretary agrees to take personal responsibility for driving improvements at a prison identified by the Chief Inspector as suffering from significant problems, particularly relating to safety.

It is only the second time the protocol, which came into force in November last year, has been used. A similar notification was issued over the “fundamentally unsafe” HMP Nottingham in January 2018.

Mr Clarke’s letter has been published today. Mr Gauke has 28 days from 30 May to respond, also publicly, explaining how the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) plan to improve HMP Exeter.

An unannounced inspection of HMP Exeter took place between 14 and 24 May 2018. Mr Clarke told Mr Gauke the principal reasons for invoking the UN were that “safety in the prison has significantly worsened in many respects” since the previous inspection in August 2016; and the prison had therefore attracted the lowest possible HMI Prisons grading of ‘poor’ for safety.

Mr Clarke added:

“There have been six self-inflicted deaths, five of which were in 2017. Despite some creditable efforts to implement recommendations from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following those deaths, the overall level of safety at HMP Exeter is unequivocally poor.”

Inspectors made some troubling findings: HMP Exeter

  • Self-harm during the six months before the inspection was running at a higher rate than in any similar prisons. It had risen by 40% since the last inspection.
  • Assaults against both prisoners and staff were among the highest inspectors had seen, and use of force by staff was inadequately governed.
  • Illicit drugs were rife and nearly a quarter of prisoners tested positive for drugs.
  • Living conditions for too many prisoners were unacceptably poor.

The letter to Mr Gauke, and briefing notes based on the end-of-inspection briefing for the prison management team, are attached to this release.

In concluding his letter, Mr Clarke told Mr Gauke:

“The senior management team that is currently in place at HMP Exeter is largely the same as at the last inspection in 2016. The failure to address the actual and perceived lack of safety, and the issues that contribute to both, is so serious that it has led me to have significant concerns about the treatment and conditions of prisoners at HMP Exeter and to the inevitable conclusion to invoke the UN protocol.”

For more information about HMP Exeter please visit www.justice.gov.uk
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