A report of Dartmoor Prison has condemned as ‘inhumane’ the practice of 23-hour lock ups for prisoners and a lack of access to showers, activities and family phone calls.

The 2021/22 report by the Independent Monitoring Board blames lack of investment due to uncertainty about the prison’s future, a slow recovery from covid restrictions and senior management instability.

The IMB report, October 2021-September 2022, concluded:

Staff shortages often led to prisoners being shut in their cells for up to 23 hours a day

Sudden changes in regime resulted in lost activities, including education and exercise and access to showers

The lack of capital investment over many years, as the prison’s possible closure was debated, raised safety and security issues for prisoners and staff, as well as limited access to telephones for family contact

A lack of working body worn cameras had a significant impact on safety and fairness to prisoners and staff with only 5% of incidents were covered with the use of them in May and 8% in June.

Resettlement work was limited amd there was serious concern about the treatment of the significant proportion of prisoners with acute and complex needs, including those with mobility issues or requiring end of life care.

Chair of Dartmoor IMB Colin Stares said: ‘While the prison has managed over the last year to keep prisoners and staff safe during the latter stages of the pandemic, the challenge will be to improve outcomes for prisoners in purposeful activity, education, and resettlement over the next year. Major improvements in the buildings and equipment and investing in support for the growing numbers of elderly prisoners are essential. Local prison management, staff members and contractors work hard and flexibly to maintain day-to-day safety and security, within unsatisfactory circumstances and constraints.’

The report also raises issues about equality and diversity within the prison.

‘The length of time that prisoners have been locked up in their cells, and the reduced access to activities/education, family communications, showers and association across the year cannot be considered by the board to be other than inhumane,’ it states.

‘At the very end of the year, the situation appears to be improving, However, within this reporting year our judgement must be that prisoners have not been treated humanely.’

The report noted that there had been some recovery since December 2021 when it was announced that the prison would stay open for another 10 years.

‘Clearly this was welcomed by staff and removed the uncertainties about their positions. But by then there was considerable underinvestment in the prison with new investments, like in-cell telephony, funding of new activities, new showers, laundry repairs and repairs to the building infrastructure, all put on hold or much reduced.

‘There were significant gaps in staffing at many levels of the organisation.

The prisoner experience was clearly lagging behind what in our opinion is acceptable and what many arriving at Dartmoor were telling us they had already experienced in other prisons.’

The prison had been slow to recover from covid, adding ‘it is in the board’s view essential that ablishes a more supportive and rehabilitative prisoner experience, as in existence prior to the Covid restrictions.

It added: ‘It is hoped that the Governor with his new senior leadership team will restore this role in the coming year.’