Appointment of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons - Justice Committee Contents

2  Chief Inspector of Prisons


8. In 1815 magistrates were given the responsibility of inspecting prisons. The Gaols Act 1835 introduced prison inspectors to advise local authorities. The Prisons Act 1878 created a national prison system run by a Prison Commission which also had a duty to inspect prisons and submit annual reports to Parliament. The Prisons Act 1952 required the Prison Commissioners, or their officers, inter alia, to:

    visit all prisons and examine the state of buildings, the conduct of officers, the treatment and conduct of prisoners and all other matters concerning the management of prisons and ... ensure that ...this Act ... [is] complied with." In addition, "The Prison Commissioners shall make ... an annual report on every prison ... (2) The report shall contain—(a) a statement of the accommodation of each prison and the daily average and highest number of prisoners confined therein; (b) such particulars of the work done by prisoners in each prison, including the kind and quantities of articles produced and the number of prisoners employed, as may in the opinion of the Secretary of State give the best information to Parliament; (c) a statement of the punishments inflicted in each prison, and of the offences for which they were inflicted, with particulars of every case in which an order for corporal punishment was made and of the grounds upon which it was made.

    9. The Chief Inspector of Prisons, established by the Criminal Justice Act 1982, is a Crown appointment, on the advice of the Justice Secretary, reporting directly to Ministers.[5] The post operates independently of Government and the services under scrutiny.

    10. HM Inspectorate of Prisons' key remit is to inspect all prisons and young offender institutions in England and Wales, and all UK immigration detention facilities, and report to relevant Ministers on the treatment and conditions of detainees. The Inspectorate also inspects a range of equivalent institutions and some in other jurisdictions by invitation.[6] It also conducts studies into specific custodial issues, often jointly with education, health and other criminal justice inspectorates.[7] The Chief Inspector works particularly closely with the Chief Inspector of Probation to provide joint inspection of offender management arrangements in prisons.


    11. The Inspectorate's own statement of purpose is to: ensure independent inspection of places of detention to report on treatment and conditions and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public. The Inspectorate's key objectives are to: inspect effectively and report on the treatment of prisoners and detainees, and the conditions in which they are held; contribute to policy, practice and performance debates concerned with the treatment and conditions of prisoners and other detainees; deliver effective joint work with other inspectorates, as required by the respective Secretaries of State; refine the efficiency and effectiveness of the inspection process; and develop joint criminal justice planning, consultation and inspection arrangements.

    12. The work of the Inspectorate supports the Ministry of Justice's Departmental Strategic Objective 4 which aims for "a more effective, transparent and responsive criminal justice system for victims and the public". The Inspectorate also supports Home Office objectives relating to immigration and policing.

    Resources and workload

    13. The Chief Inspector is supported by a deputy, about 45 inspectors and other permanent staff and 11 fee-paid inspectors and editors. In 2009-10, the total Inspectorate budget was £4.2 million, of which 87% came from the Ministry of Justice, 7% from the UK Borders Agency, 5% from the Home Office and 1% from the Youth Justice Board.

    14. There are over 135 prisons and young offender institutions in England and Wales, currently holding over 84,000 people at a cost of about £2.2 billion per year. In addition there are 15 immigration detention facilities in the UK with planned capacity of nearly 4,500.

    15. Inspections, full and short, currently total about 90 a year, including follow-up work focusing on areas of concern highlighted during earlier visits. Inspections may be announced as part of a published programme, or unannounced. Extra resources have recently been allocated for the latter following two cases of challenging prisoners being transferred temporarily from prisons due for inspection.

    16. The prison population rose over 25%, from an average of 66,300 in 2001 to 83,151 on 22 January 2010. The policies of the two main parties both anticipate that numbers will continue to grow and capacity will have to be provided through the building of new prisons. In response to a recent parliamentary question, the Prisons Minister said that the Ministry of Justice aimed to increase capacity to 96,000 prison places by 2014, building 7,500 new places whilst closing up to 5,000 worn out and inefficient places. The first phase of the programme would deliver 3,000 new places and close 500.[8]

    17. The Chief Inspector is responsible for determining how the work of the Inspectorate is best organised to provide sufficient coverage of all places of detention within a reasonable cycle agreed with Ministers, while ensuring that a focus on developing or acute areas of concern is not lost.


    18. Following statutory consultation on the Inspectorate's proposed programme, an annual business plan sets out work to meet its key objectives. The annual inspection programme is developed independently of Ministry of Justice and Home Office plans and targets. The priorities of the programme balance recent inspections with the results of risk assessment. Priorities for thematic reviews are a matter for the Chief Inspector informed by consultation, tending to follow recurring themes and problems.

    19. The Inspectorate undertakes inspections according to its own methodology and published assessment criteria and standards (termed "expectations"). These are informed by best practice within the inspected bodies, referenced against international human rights and penal norms. This methodology is documented and governs how it will conduct inspection activities, assess evidence, reach conclusions and communicate the outcomes of such activities. All of the work of the Inspectorate is underpinned by its own independently defined set of values. The main products of the Inspectorate's work are inspection reports, all of which are published, most of which include recommendations for action. Publication is at the discretion of the Chief Inspector and, although presented to the relevant Secretary of State, reports are not subject to clearance requirements.[9]

    20. The Inspectorate does not have enforcement powers. Dame Anne Owers DBE, the current Chief Inspector of Prisons, told us that the job was much more about encouraging best practice than monitoring compliance in a tick-box manner. She said that over 95% of her recommendations were accepted, with evidence of about two thirds being implemented on inspection follow-up.

    5   The statutory provisions, person specification for the role and the terms and conditions of the post are annexed to this report. Back

    6   Under the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, HMCIP inspects prisons in Northern Ireland. By invitation, he or she also carries out inspections in the Channel Islands and Isle of Man. Police custody suites are inspected jointly with HMCI Constabulary (a treaty obligation) and the Chief Inspector inspects the military detention facility in Colchester and is developing criteria for inspecting military detention elsewhere. Back

    7   For example, Ofsted, Estyn, the Education and Training Inspectorate (Northern Ireland), HM Inspectorate of Education (Scotland), the Care Quality Commission, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Agency (Northern Ireland), the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the NHS Business Services Authority (Dental Services Division) and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. The inspectorate also works with the Audit Commission on Comprehensive Area Assessments. Back

    8   Official Report, 11 November 2009, cols 483-4W Back

    9   Applicants pack, post of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Ministry of Justice, January 2010 Back

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Prepared 18 March 2010