'Shocking standards' - HMP Exeter has worst self-harm rates in the country

160223 Exeter Prison BPM Media
Since 2018, ten men have taken their own lives in the prison Credit: BPM Media

Exeter Prison has the worst self-harm rates in the country according to a report which found ten inmates have taken their own lives since 2018.

Inspectors heavily criticised HMP Exeter in the report published today (16 February), which found "shocking standards" at the site.

It also highlighted there was inadequate care for vulnerable new arrivals when inspectors visited the prison last November.

Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “Exeter is a reception prison – men arrive here newly sentenced or remanded and those early days are when we know prisoners are at their most vulnerable, particularly those with substance misuse problems or mental health concerns.

"Yet we found the highest levels of self-harm in the country for this kind of prison, and ten men had taken their own lives in the prison since 2018.

"The complacency with which such shocking standards seems to have been viewed by the prison service is extraordinary.”

The report highlights a number of crucial failings, including staff shortages, lack of support, and prisoners locked up for long periods of time.

An Urgent Notification was announced within days of completing the inspection, following concerns more men would die without immediate action.

HMP Exeter, a Victorian-era prison which held 388 inmates at the time of the inspection, was previously issued an Urgent Notification in 2018.

This is the first time that a prison has been handed two consecutive Urgent Notifications.

The report highlights the prison's 'troubled recent history'.

The report reads: "Things have not improved at anything like the rate expected".

It must now make urgent changes in time for the next inspection in 2023.

More men arrive at the prison with mental health and substance problems than at similar prisons.

Yet despite this, early days processes did not sufficiently support these men through their first few weeks in jail when they are at their most vulnerable, the report found.

Staff shortages in health care were also impacting the provision of care, particularly in terms of support for mentally ill and neurodivergent prisoners.

Prisoners who needed prescribed medication were not receiving it during their first few days and some were becoming unwell, inspectors found.

Men who had begun alcohol detoxification or opiate substation were also not being routinely observed.

The prison must make urgent changes in time for the next inspection later this year Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA

The prison was also falling short on a number of other fronts, with prisoners locked up for long periods of time and very few being able to attend education or training despite places being available for them to do so.

Prisoners told inspectors they were bored and desperate to get off the wing and do something meaningful with their time.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons says in such a high-risk jail, it was 'particularly disappointing' to find there had been three governors and eight deputy governors since the last inspection.

The Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab, published his response to the Urgent Notification saying the situation at Exeter was “completely unacceptable”.

He said he was committed to a course of action to improve the situation.

Prisons Minister Damian Hinds said: “These findings are unacceptable and HMP Exeter is being provided with intensive, specialist support to drive long-lasting improvement.

“Some positive change is already being seen and self-harm has reduced after extra staff were recruited and improved training put in place, while widespread refurbishment is under way and new educational opportunities will increase the time out of cells.

“But much more needs to be done to improve safety and I will be working with the leadership team and wider Prison Service to raise standards without delay.”

Inspectors will be returning to HMP Exeter in 2023 where they say they expect to see a 'significant improvement' as well as evidence that the prison service is investing in continuing to make changes over the long-term.

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