Drugs thrown over HMP Exeter walls 'almost daily'

Exeter Prison Image copyright Chris Allen
Image caption The prisons inspector found problems with drugs and violence were exacerbated by a lack of staff

Contraband including drugs is thrown over the walls almost daily at a prison struggling with staff shortages, a report has found.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons also warned the high number of violent incidents at HMP Exeter could get worse.

The watchdog said there were insufficient numbers of staff to run a "predictable and resilient regime".

The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) said it was "confident" the issues could be addressed.

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Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said the Category B jail faced a challenge to reduce the supply of drugs, such as new psychoactive substances and cannabis.

Hooch, the name given to illicitly brewed alcohol, was also found to be a serious problem.

"Physical security measures were generally proportionate, but the prison faced the almost daily challenge of items such as drugs being thrown over the wall," the report said.

Staff efforts praised

Inspectors were told during the inspection in August there was 490 inmates and a shortfall of 13 prison officers.

In the six months prior to the visit, there had been 96 assaults, 45 fights and 173 self-harm incidents.

Mr Clarke said: "If the shortage of staff provided the backdrop to the difficulties at HMP Exeter, the foreground was filled by the challenges of drugs, violence and prisoners suffering from mental health issues.

"These were, of course, intertwined, and each in their own way was exacerbated by the impact of staff shortages."

Too many inmates were unable to attend education or activities, the inspection found, while there were also "real weaknesses" in offender management.

"Unless the regime at the establishment could be improved, violence reduced and the prevalence of drugs and other contraband addressed, further declines would be almost inevitable," he added.

However, inspectors praised the efforts of staff and management, adding that it was difficult to see how outcomes could have been "significantly better" given the staffing shortfalls.

Michael Spurr, chief executive of NOMS, said: "We recognise that the prison needs more staff to deal with the problem of drugs, to improve safety and to provide more purposeful activity for prisoners.

"The government has provided additional funding to increase staffing levels and good progress is already being made to recruit new officers.

"I'm confident that, together with these extra resources, the governor will be able to fully address the recommendations in this report and significantly improve the performance of the prison."

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