Inmates locked in 'cramped' cells 'for too long' at Dartmoor prison

HMP Dartmoor Prison
The report found access to education, training and employment was poor. Credit: PA

A report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons says it would be "very concerned" if the number of prisoners in Dartmoor increases further following a visit which found cramp cells were now doubled up to hold two prisoners.

The unannounced visit found access to education, training and employment was poor and the prison was failing to deliver its purpose as a training prison, stating it had "too many prisoners with not enough to do."

Other key concerns included large amounts of drugs getting into the prison, staff being unaware of their responsibility to monitor the mail of inmates and the health care environment being classed as "not fit for purpose".

Dartmoor is one of the oldest prisons in the country and was due to be closed, but has been kept open due to population pressures.

At the time of the inspection the number of prisoners being held was 684, with operational capacity being 689. Around 33 new prisoners join each month.

A shared cell on A wing. Credit: HM Inspectorate of Prisons

It also found that, despite the prison holding a large number of people convicted of sexual offences, there were no accredited programmes to support their rehabilitation.  

The report said: "Given the relatively older age of the Dartmoor population, the long sentences many are serving and the already inadequate numbers of work, training and education places, the inspectorate would be very concerned if the number of prisoners increases further."

It outlines how at the last inspection in 2017 the prison was "decaying fast" with damp cells and buckets placed underneath leaking roofs. It also highlighted that prisoners were locked in their cells too long.

The report wants to see inmates spend more time outside of their cells. Credit: HM Inspectorate of Prisons

The report said: "This failure to invest in the infrastructure meant that the prison had not had some of the improvements that we have seen elsewhere, such as the introduction of in-cell phones, electronic kiosks, or fit-for-purpose health, education, or laundry facilities.

"Given the state of the jail, the leaders had done well to keep the prison clean and there had been refurbishment of some showers."

The findings also highlighted that leaders had not developed adequate systems for collecting and monitoring accurate data. For example, they were not aware that there had been a decline in the number of social visits. Recently the booking line had been out of action, meaning prisoners were not able to see family and friends.

The strengths of the jail included peer work, where a scheme has been helping to transform the lives of some troubled prisoners, and relationships between staff and prisoners.

Prisoners were also found to be kept safe and to get good support ahead of their release.

Offender managers were also carrying our much more one-to-one work with prisoners than inspectors said they usually see.

Despite staff numbers not being at the right level, prisoners were "generally favourable" about their care.

The inspectorate wants the governor to make a plan about how they will fix the problems at HMP Dartmoor and make things better for prisoners, including by improving healthcare and getting people out of their cells for longer periods of time.

The report says another inspection will be done in a few years to see how staff and inmates are doing.