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16 Feb 2023

Howard League responds to Exeter prison inspection report

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Exeter prison, published today (Thursday 16 February).

Exeter is the only adult prison to have been subject to two consecutive Urgent Notifications, first in 2018 and now again after an inspection in 2022. Inspectors found high rates of suicide and self-harm, inadequate care for vulnerable new arrivals and poor oversight of health care.

Ten men have taken their lives in Exeter prison since 2018, and it was found to have the highest rates of self-harm in the country for prison of its kind. Visiting inspectors noted that Exeter holds more men with mental health and substance misuse problems than at similar prisons, but despite this, inmates were not sufficiently supported at their most vulnerable.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, highlighted a culture of complacency where shockingly low standards were going unaddressed. Although deemed high-risk, there had been three governors and eight deputy governors since the last inspection, disrupting any stability in the already struggling prison.

The prison was seen to be struggling across the board, with significant issues in provision of care, particularly for mentally ill and neurodivergent prisoners. People held in the prison were also being held for long periods of time, unable to access education and training – despite resources being available for them.

Rob Preece, Communications Manager at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This devastating report is merely the latest chapter in a long, tragic history of failure at Exeter prison. This is a jail where at least 26 people have lost their lives, in circumstances recorded as ‘self-inflicted’, over the last decade – and yet conditions are getting worse.

“Inspectors first raised the alarm seven years ago, when they noticed a severe decline in safety, respect and help given to people preparing for release. When they returned in 2018, self-harm had risen by 40 per cent, assaults had doubled, and one in seven men said that they had developed a problem with drugs since arriving at the prison.

“In 2021, the watchdog found men locked in their cells for more than 22 hours each day. Relationships between people living and working in the prison were not good enough, and inspectors concluded that significant progress was needed to make it safer.

“Today, after years of chaotic leadership, Exeter prison remains severely overcrowded, with more than 330 men crammed into cells that are designed to hold about 240. It has been asked to do much, with too little, for too long. Multiple warnings have gone unheeded.

“How are prisons such as Exeter helping to keep the public safe? Any serious attempt to reduce crime would begin with investment in housing, education and jobs, and a commitment to ensure that people are given the support they need.”

Notes to editors

  1. 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.
  2. The inspection report for Exeter is available here:



Noor Khan

Press and Public Affairs Officer

Mobile: +44 (0)20 7241 7873



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