19:12, October 08 41 0 theguardian.com

2018-10-08 19:12:05
Exeter prison condemned by inspectors for violence and drug use

The crisis-struck HMP Exeter prison, one of only four to have been subjected to special emergency action, is “very violent” and has overt drug use that is not regarded as exceptional by staff, according to inspectors.

The prison was inspected in May, prompting the chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, to invoke an urgent notification protocol, requiring the justice secretary to publish an emergency plan. The report on that inspection, published on Tuesday, reveals that the inspector himself entered a cell from which a strong smell of drugs was emanating.

Many incidents of violence were serious and involved weapons, the report says, highlighting a concerning trend among prisoners of throwing boiling water mixed with sugar at staff and other inmates.

The report, published by the president of the Prison Governors Association (PGA), accuses the government of failing to respond quickly enough to the jail safety crisis.

Andrea Albutt, the PGA’s president, will claim in a speech to its annual conference this week that “dis-investment” has contributed to the decline in standards that has hit much of the estate in England and Wales.

The number of assaults against prison officers has continued to rise; the most recent official figures revealed 9,003 assaults on staff in the 12 months to March, up 26% from the previous year.

The prison inspectorate has handed four urgent notices to the justice secretary in the past year, covering prisons in Exeter, Nottingham, Birmingham and Bedford. It is the most serious level of action the inspectorate can take over conditions in a prison it inspects.

In the case of HMP Birmingham, the prison was taken out of the hands of its private operator, G4S, and returned to state control for at least six months as officials battled to reduce violence, drug use and disorder.

The Inspectorate of Prisons report on Exeter said standards had deteriorated so sharply that staff appeared to see widespread drug use and poor conditions as normal.

Clarke said: “It [one cell] contained two prisoners who were clearly heavily intoxicated by drugs, surrounded by obvious signs of smoking [in a supposedly ‘smoke-free’ jail], food waste and other detritus. Sadly, the staff on the wing did not seem to regard this as exceptional.”

He said living conditions for many prisoners were very poor. “The situation had come to be regarded by many staff as normal,” he said. “There had been six self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection and apparently another within weeks of this inspection. Self-harm had risen by 40%.

“The rate of assaults between prisoners was the highest we have seen in a local prison in recent years and had more than doubled since the last inspection. Illicit drugs were still prevalent, with 60% of prisoners telling us it was easy to obtain drugs and around a quarter testing positive for drugs.”

In a scathing critique, Allbutt will say: “A constant irritation of mine is that the government do not have the humility to admit that they got their policy completely wrong this decade in our prisons.

“We have crumbling prisons and an inability to give a safe, decent and secure regime to large numbers of men and women in our care due to lack of staff, not-fit-for-purpose contracts and a much more violent, disrespectful gang- and drug-affiliated population.”

She will defend Michael Spurr, who was leant on to leave his role as chief executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) in March. Describing Spurr as “dedicated and competent”, Albutt will say: “The last thing we need is another change of direction. Without a doubt, lack of continuity this decade has contributed to instability in our prisons.”

The prisons minister, Rory Stewart, said a team of specialists was sent in to transform HMP Exeter’s safety approach as part of the response.

He added: “We’ll be building on this momentum over the coming months, ensuring each prisoner has dedicated support from a specific prison officer and reviewing incentives to reward good behaviour. This will make relationships between offenders and prison officers more constructive, reducing violence and improving efforts to steer them away from crime.”

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