hm prison

HM Prison Exeter

HM Prison Exeter has a long history dating back to the 12th century, when the manor of Bicton was required to help fund a county jail in Exeter. The current prison building was constructed in 1853 based on the Pentonville model. Exeter operated as a typical Victorian era jail with harsh conditions and public executions.

In the 20th century, Exeter remained an old-fashioned local prison holding prisoners from Devon and surrounding counties. Notable events included the failed execution of John Babbacombe Lee in 1885 and a major riot in 1987.

Location and Layout

The prison is located in Exeter, the county town of Devon in South West England. It sits on a compact site just north of the city centre. The layout is based on the traditional Victorian ‘radial’ design with a central hub and four residential wings spreading out. Facilities include kitchens, a healthcare unit, workshops, classrooms, a gymnasium and outdoor exercise yards.

Prison Population and Categories

Exeter holds adult men from the age of 21. The majority are from Devon and neighbouring counties in the South West. The operational capacity is around 320 inmates. Exeter holds sentenced prisoners classed as Category B and Category C. These categories reflect lower security risk compared to Category A. Exeter also houses some prisoners on remand awaiting trial or sentencing.

See also  Bodmin Jail

Notable Events

As mentioned, Exeter is renowned for the failed execution of John Babbacombe Lee in 1885, when the trapdoor mechanism failed three times. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. More recently in 1987, a major riot caused extensive damage and led to changes in security. Exeter has also seen a number of inmate deaths from suicide and drug overdoses.

Conditions and Criticisms

In recent years Exeter has been criticised by inspectors and advocates for overcrowding, poor facilities, inadequate staffing and high levels of violence. Drug use is a problem, self-harm and suicide rates are above average. Many cells are in a poor state of repair. A 2018 inspection rated safety and care as ‘poor’.

Daily Life in the Prison

Facilities and Regime

Prisoners at Exeter follow a structured daily routine. They are unlocked from their cells at set times for work, education, exercise, meals and association. Each wing has its own allocated facilities. Prisoners wear a uniform and are subject to strict rules and discipline. Facilities include telephones, showers, a library and in-cell sanitation. Pétanque and basketball courts provide recreation.

Work and Education

Many prisoners have jobs such as kitchen work, waste management, cleaning and assisting officers. Others attend vocational skills courses in subjects like construction, computing and business. Education includes basic literacy and numeracy, IT skills, arts and crafts, and preparation for exams. Ofsted has rated the learning and skills provision as good.

Healthcare and Support

In-house doctors and nurses provide primary care and medications. Dentistry, mental health services and social care are also available. Peer support schemes operate to aid new prisoners. Counselling addresses substance abuse, family issues and offending behaviour. However, long waiting times for mental health transfers have been criticised.

See also  HM Prison Frankland

Security and Control

Exeter uses a combination of physical security, strict routines and incentives to maintain control. All movements are supervised, CCTV monitors high-risk areas and an inner fence surrounds the prison. Incentives include enhanced prisoner status, extra visits and access to amenities. Adjudications and sanctions are used to punish infractions.

Rehabilitation and Release

Preparing Prisoners for Release

Exeter runs rehabilitation courses focusing on employment, housing, finances, addiction and relationships. Prisoners can gain vocational qualifications to aid work prospects. Resettlement support starts months before release. However, some inmates are transferred back to resettlement prisons nearer home.

Reducing Reoffending

Offending behaviour programmes at Exeter aim to give prisoners insight into their crimes and teach strategies to avoid reoffending. Courses cover aggression control, substance abuse, sex offender treatment and thinking skills. Support is also given with finding housing and employment on release, key factors in reducing reoffending.

Supporting Families and Children

Prisoners are encouraged to maintain family ties through visits, phone calls and letters. Family support services provide a point of contact for relatives and organise specific visits. Initiatives assist prisoners’ children such as holiday schemes and homework clubs. However, some families travel long distances which can limit contact.

Community Links and Volunteering

Exeter has links with employers who offer training and jobs on release. Community volunteers work in the prison delivering programmes, mentoring and education. Some supervised prisoners give back through volunteering locally. However, more could be done to foster community integration and challenge stigma around prisoners.

The Future of the Prison

Government Strategy and Investment

The prison service aims to modernise the estate and improve rehabilitation under its reform programme. Specific funding has been promised to expand and upgrade Exeter. More investment is needed to truly transform facilities, reduce overcrowding and implement cultural changes.

See also  HM Prison Northallerton

Improving Safety and Conditions

Exeter requires substantial improvements across safety, care, decency and purposeful activity according to inspectors. Key targets are reducing violence through tackling the drugs supply, minimising self-harm, better mental healthcare, and creating incentives for good behaviour.

Staffing, Training and Culture

Staff shortages have impacted the prison’s stability. Recruitment aims to reach full officer staffing levels, enhanced through training and development. A supportive culture that prioritises care, dynamic security and rehabilitation is vital. Staff wellbeing and engagement will aid retention.

Modernisation and Expansion

Proposals exist to create 500 extra prison places by building a new houseblock and expanding the grounds. This aims to ease overcrowding and allow better separation of incompatible groups. Updated facilities that enable rehabilitation are needed alongside physical expansion.


HM Prison Exeter faces significant challenges around poor conditions, safety and rehabilitation. However, increased government investment provides optimism that the prison can be turned around. Utilising evidence-based approaches to reduce violence, self-harm and reoffending will be key. A focus on staff training, culture and prisoner engagement can unlock Exeter’s potential to become a decent, modern prison.


What type of prisoners are held at Exeter?

Exeter holds adult men aged 21 and over who are categorised as low or medium security. Most come from Devon and surrounding counties in the South West.

What facilities are available to prisoners?

Basic facilities include cells, showers, telephones, a gym and outdoor exercise yards. Workshops, classrooms, a library and kitchen provide activities and skills training.

How does the daily regime operate?

Prisoners follow a strict timetable for unlocking, meals, roll calls, work, education, appointments and lock-up. They wear uniforms and must obey disciplinary rules at all times.

What rehabilitation is offered at the prison?

Courses cover employability, addiction, finance, relationships and behaviour change. Support is given pre-release for housing, jobs and other resettlement needs. Family ties are also maintained.

What plans are there to improve the prison?

The government has pledged investment to expand and modernise Exeter. Priorities are increasing staff, improving safety and conditions, and updating Victorian-era facilities.

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