HMP Dartmoor keeps prisoners in cramped cells while limiting access to outside exercise, reveals a report by the HM Inspectorate of prisons.
The unnanounced inspection identified 13 concerns. A ‘Key Concern’ is overcrowding, with 98 prisoners – more than one in seven – having to share one-person cells. These cramped conditions left prisoners with little privacy. The report noted bedsheets were commandeered as screens for in-cell toilets, even at risk of punishment.
Access to outside exercise is a ‘Priority Concern’. Activites are routinely cancelled without warning. There had been ‘an 89% restriction to prisoners time out of cell’ in the month before the inspection. This forces prisoners to remain for even longer periods in their overcrowded cells.
Issues identified by the report include problems with illicit smuggling with 58% of prisoners reporting that it was easy to get drugs at the prison. A further 41% reported that they could easily get hold of alcohol and 25% had been able to obtain tobacco.
Inmates were also left vulnerable to self-harm with the report finding that the number of incidents had increased since the last inspection and that 271 incidents had occurred within the last 12 months. Inconsistencies with attendance at safer custody meetings following these incidents meant the prison had not yet implemented effective action to reduce and address the causes of self-harm.
The report also revealed that the Office for Standards in Education found that HMP Dartmoor failed to adequately facilitate learning with more than 300 prisoners were on waiting lists for both English and Mathematics courses. This meant that ‘too many prisoners did not develop the vital skills they needed to progress within the establishment or on release.’
This report comes after it was announced in 2021 that the prison would no longer close as planned but would stay open for the ‘foreseeable future’ due to the rising prison population in England and Wales. The prison had previously been inspected in 2017 and, whilst it was found there had been some improvement, all the recommendations on areas of key concern had not been achieved.
The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, wrote that with a ‘reasonable staffing situation, and some enthusiastic prisoners and staff, there is the opportunity to make Dartmoor into a much more effective jail’. However, he highlighted the controversy of HM Prison and Probation services’ decision to increase the number of inmates at Dartmoor as ‘if the prison service forces further population increases on the jail, then progress is likely to be affected.’