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Exeter Prison is "national scandal"

Victorian Exeter Prison is "national scandal" claims campaign group (courtesy: Roger)

Anti-prison group responds to new inspectors' report

An anti-prison campaign group claims that the state of decline at Exeter Prison is a national scandal.

The Howard League for Penal reform says the Victorian jail on New North Road is deteriorating - and asks how many people must lose their lives there.

Their intervention comes on the day prison inspectors publish a new report, months after the secretary of state for justice was forced to intervene with public plans for improvement. Inspectors visited the prison in May this year and found conditions so alarming that the Chief Inspector of Prisons invoked the Urgent Notification protocol, requiring the Secretary of State for Justice to respond publicly with plans to improve the jail.

The Howard League says 11 men have died in the prison since the beginning of last year - and that seven have killed themselves since August 2016. The rate of assaults had more than doubled since an August 2016 inspection, and incidents of self-injury had risen by 40 per cent. Three in five prisoners told inspectors that it was easy to obtain drugs. One in four prisoners was receiving support for mental health issues.

Exeter is one of the country's most overcrowded prisons. The Howard League says that the prison is designed to accommodate 318 men, but was being asked to look after 461 at the end of August.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The alarming deterioration of Exeter prison is a national scandal, and it raises urgent questions about the prison system as a whole. How inured to the problems in the system have we become when we have a prison where violence has more than doubled, self-injury is rising, drug abuse is rife, and staff working on the wings consider this to be normal? And how many people must lose their lives before bold action is taken to put things right?

“This inspection report on Exeter should serve as a warning that hiring more staff is not sufficient to turn around overcrowded and overburdened jails. Ultimately, reducing the prison population is the only way that we will protect staff, save lives and prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of crime, violence and despair.”

The government has previously committed to closing Victorian prisons, but there’s no scheduled timetable for Exeter to close.

The inspectors' report is here.

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