What is Exeter Prison like?

What is Exeter Prison like?

Inside HMP Exeter: A Deep Dive Into Life Behind Bars


With recent attention on Devon’s prisons, notably due to an unsolved escape from HMP Channings Wood, questions about what life is like inside these institutions are rising. Exeter Prison, or HMP Exeter, is one such institution that has been criticized for various issues, including overcrowding, violence, and drug abuse. Here’s an insightful look into the daily realities within Exeter Prison, backed by official reports, interviews, and more.

What is Exeter Prison like?

Recent Assessments

In a 2018 study conducted by the HM Chief Inspectorate of Prisons, HMP Exeter was rated as ‘poor.’ The evaluation emphasized alarming rates of violence and self-harm. Particularly, the illicit trade in drugs like ‘Spice’ has been cited as a contributing factor to the violence. This alarming state of affairs has led the government to promise improvements in the prison environment, including advanced measures like new x-ray body scanners to curb drug smuggling.

An Ex-Inmate’s Perspective

In a candid interview with DevonLive, a former inmate provided a sobering account of life in HMP Exeter. Describing conditions as “really poor,” the individual mentioned that issues like violence and drug abuse were exacerbated by insufficient staffing and lack of adherence to standard protocols. Staff attitudes were a mixed bag, ranging from courteous to unprofessional.

What is Exeter Prison like?

What is Exeter Prison like?

Living Conditions

Exeter Prison has grappled with extreme overcrowding, with occupancy rates exceeding 80% for nearly a decade, compared to a national average of just 24%. The minimal open space means that the exercise yard is often likened to a “large rabbit hutch,” according to one ex-inmate.

Time Spent Outside Cells

Limited staffing has impacted the time inmates spend outside their cells. Typically, inmates who are not employed within the prison get to leave their cells for just an hour, assuming staff is available to monitor them.

Boredom: An Overarching Issue

The limited recreational options result in intense boredom among inmates. While TVs are available, the channel selection is scant. Radios and PlayStations are privileges earned through good behavior.

Visitor Experience

Nicole Gilmer, who visited as a student, found the experience eye-opening but emotionally taxing. While prisoners might appreciate visits, the fact that visitors get to leave while they remain behind can stir mixed emotions.

Staffing Crisis

The prison currently faces a significant staff shortage, with only 12 staff members for a population of 500 inmates. Efforts are underway to recruit more staff, but the challenges remain substantial.

Official Statements

The Prison Service has highlighted that additional funding is in place to ameliorate living conditions. They also mentioned the implementation of the key worker scheme, aimed at providing personal support to inmates. Despite these efforts, the conditions have necessitated an Urgent Notification for immediate improvements.

Damning Reports

Recent reports by inspectors have called out multiple failings at Exeter Prison, from high rates of suicide and self-harm to leadership issues. The inspectorate has also criticized the prison service for its complacency toward these shocking standards.


While criminal offenders undoubtedly need to be confined for public safety, the question remains: what standard of care and human dignity should be maintained within prison walls? As the government vows to make improvements and the prison itself promises changes, only time will tell whether HMP Exeter can overcome its numerous challenges.