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News | 01.02.2017

Howard League responds to Exeter prison inspection

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Exeter prison, published today (Wednesday 1 February).

Inspectors visited Exeter in August last year and found a prison in decline, due in part to staff shortages. The overcrowded prison is designed to accommodate 326 men but, at the time of the inspection, it was holding 490.

Ten people had died through suicide since the prison was previously inspected in 2013, including three who took their own lives in the two months before inspectors arrived. An eleventh prisoner lost his life through suicide shortly after the inspection.

There were insufficient staff to run the prison properly. Inspectors were told that the prison was suffering a shortfall of 13 prison officers. On the penultimate day of the inspection, only 29 officers were on duty.

Levels of violence were far higher than at other local prisons. There had been 96 assaults – 30 on staff and 66 on prisoners – and 173 recorded incidents of self-injury in the six months prior to the inspection. More than half of the prisoners surveyed by inspectors said that they had felt unsafe during their time at the prison.

Too many prisoners were unable to attend education or activities because of staff shortages. Almost half of prisoners were locked up during the working day, and some spent as many as 22 hours a day inside their cells.

Many cells were poorly furnished, with graffiti and missing windows. Showers were dirty. Healthcare required improvement, and there were not enough social care staff to meet prisoners’ needs.

About one in four prisoners were released without somewhere sustainable to live.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This a terrible report, which once again highlights the systemic issues afflicting prisons across the country. It is particularly concerning that Exeter has seen many prisoners taking their own lives, and that inspectors have little confidence conditions will improve. People’s lives are literally at stake.

“The government has made welcome statements about addressing the problems behind bars but we need to go further. Too many people are currently cut adrift into violent and dangerous institutions, where they are swept away into deeper currents of crime.

“Only reducing pressure on the prison population and removing the worst of overcrowding will secure a safer system that can work for everyone.”

Notes to editors

The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.

A copy of the Exeter inspection report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from Wednesday 1 February at:


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955
For enquiries outside normal office hours, please call +44 (0)7918 681094

Charity Number: 251926