Appointment of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons - Justice Committee Contents


3  The hearing

Evidence from the current Chief Inspector

21. Dame Anne Owers, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons until 31 March 2010, gave evidence on 2 February 2010. The key points arising from her evidence are set out below.

a)  Resettlement had become a key and core part of what prisons do although its effectiveness is another story. Many prisons do not have enough education places. Some prisons have places but no culture of encouraging offenders to take them up.

b)  There was a danger, as the prison population rises and resources are constrained, that prisons would revert to being simply "containers" for offenders. There had been worrying signals to 'good' training prisons, that resources for purposeful activity would be reduced next year. One response to rising costs—clustering—needed to be looked at; especially where the combination of institutions was a "slightly odd" one.

c)  The need for healthcare and education services inside the prison system seemed to be an indicator of how those systems are failing people outside prison.

d)  Independence, and the perception of independence, was vital for the role of Chief Inspector, but there was a delicate balance to be struck between maintaining independence while remaining influential and effective. Dame Anne had never felt pressured to change a report. A bigger threat was the insidious temptation to enter 'the tent' and assist with change—creating the problem then of how to inspect properly what you had helped to create.

e)  In terms of operational independence, there was a risk that departmental officials would reset all the administrative gains, won by previous chief inspectors, back to the default 'Whitehall' position (not the result of conspiracy but a bureaucratic "this is the way we do things" approach).

f)  Enforcement powers were not part of the Inspectorate's approach. The Chief Inspector's role has always had a welcome emphasis on promoting best practice rather than ticking boxes on compliance (as well as a focus on quality not quantity, and outcomes not processes).

g)  The Inspectorate should be accountable to Ministers and to Parliament in terms of the amount of inspection possible for a given allocation of resources, rather than be seen as part of the Ministry's budget to be sliced up by departmental officials. On current plans, Dame Anne did not feel that the organisation had sufficient resources to provide assurance to Ministers or to the public about what was going on in prisons. On the existing resource base, each adult prison gets inspected twice in 5 years.

h)  Dame Anne had reservations about our recommendation that the Chief Inspector take on the inspection of the quality of prison officer training.[10] She drew a distinction between the conclusions of an inspection suggesting more, or better, or different staff training was needed and being responsible for inspecting the quality and effectiveness of that training provision. We understand her reservations, nevertheless we urge the new Chief Inspector to consider our original recommendation afresh, with a view to contributing to the joint inspection of prisoner officer training.

i)  The Chief Inspector's role demanded a hands-on approach with time spent inside prisons unescorted making direct contact with inmates. Dame Anne told us that the crucial attributes for the post included: engagement with what actually happens in prisons; commitment to the inspectorate's own set of standards; an ability to believe that people and institutions can change; and the willingness, and doggedness, to keep asking 'why?' (when the service and institutions are mostly focusing on 'how?').

j)  She recommended a closer relationship with Parliament, perhaps on the basis of, at least, a yearly session in front of this Committee on the Chief Inspector's annual report.

The candidate

22. The preferred candidate, Mr Nicholas Hardwick, is the founding Chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). The Commission became operational in April 2004 with the aim of increasing public confidence in the police complaints system in England and Wales. The Commission investigates the most serious complaints and allegations of misconduct against the police as well as handling appeals from those not satisfied with the way police have dealt with their complaint. In 2006, the Commission's remit was extended to cover the Serious Organised Crime Agency and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and, in 2008, its jurisdiction was extended further to include the UK Border Agency.

23. Prior to becoming Chairman of the IPCC, Mr Hardwick was Chief Executive of the Refugee Council (1995 to 2003) as well as being a member of: the Social Security Advisory Committee; the Prince's Trust Ethnic Minorities Advisory Group; and the Holocaust Memorial Day Steering Group. He was Chief Executive of Centrepoint (1986 to 1995) which included a secondment to the Department of the Environment for six months to advise on the implementation of the Government's Rough Sleepers Initiative. Mr Hardwick started his career at the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO) (1980 to 1986) in its Youth Training Section.

24. Mr Hardwick clearly has relevant professional experience for the role of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. He is familiar with the criminal justice landscape and he has experience of heading up a substantial and significant organisation undertaking investigative work and promulgating lessons learned.

The candidate's approach

INDEPENDENCE

25. Mr Hardwick recognised that the Inspectorate needed to be a fully independent operation, saying that this was "absolutely essential" both at a tactical, as well as a strategic—"big set piece"— level. He was determined that administrative gains established by previous chief inspectors would not be lost "on my watch". We welcome his approach to the assertion of independence. He said: "You have to demonstrate [your independence] with the rigour of your evidence, so when challenged you can say, 'Here is the evidence on which I base my conclusions. It stands up to scrutiny ... Here is the rationale for my decisions and judgements. It stands up to scrutiny'."[11]

26. Mr Hardwick concurred with Dame Anne about the need for balancing independence with the need to remain effective in securing change where it is needed; but without becoming identified too closely with the service he was supposed to be inspecting or its sponsoring department. He agreed it was a delicate balance, saying that the inspectorate's criticisms had to be taken seriously, and acted upon, but also its positive findings had to be credible too without giving the impression to external observers that "you are in somebody's pocket".[12]

27. The independence of the inspection function, and its unequivocal perception as such, is crucial for the conduct of objective scrutiny and for public confidence in the service. We note that "annual appraisal" appears amongst the terms and conditions for this appointment, as it did for the role of Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service. We repeat our belief that the performance of the occupants of such independent posts is better assessed by feedback from stakeholders and periodic peer review than by a quasi-management process.

EXPERIENCE

28. We asked Mr Hardwick where his past experience might have a bearing on his new role. He identified his earliest experiences of NACRO's community-based projects with young offenders, where the supervisors had offered the first stable adult relationship in the experience of many of the young people. He compared this to the evidence we had gathered, in relation to the role of the prison officer, that prison officers were sometimes the first stable adult role model that an offender has come across with the potential to achieve a positive impact on offender behaviour just by the example set. Mr Hardwick also referred to his time at the Independent Police Complaints Commission: demonstrating leadership; working with the Crown Prosecution Service to bring serious offenders to justice; dealing with victims; and in addressing issues of incarceration in terms of conditions and procedures within police custody suites.[13]

RESOURCES

29. Mr Hardwick recognised that the public expenditure environment was heavily constrained and the resources at his disposal would have to be deployed to maximum effect. He said that a detailed conversation with the Ministry of Justice on the inspectorate's resources was one he had yet to have. His preliminary thinking—stemming from his experience in the voluntary or third sector—was that he needed to develop the broadest possible intelligence base with which to inform his risk assessments and identification of priorities for the application of available resources. He said "there are people going into prisons from different perspectives and we need to find a way of using the insight and information they get to inform us and to inform our picture of what is happening inside prisons." He welcomed our suggestion that the network of prison Independent Monitoring Boards (formerly 'Boards of Visitors') could well contribute to this process. [14]

ROLE OF PRISON AND OF THE INSPECTORATE

30. We welcome Mr Hardwick's appreciation of the importance of there being a clear and shared strategic vision of the purpose of prison. He said: "...the purpose of prison? Ask 20 people and you get 40 different answers." His view was that the punishment imposed by a prison sentence was essentially the deprivation of liberty rather than the regime inside and what happens to them. He said: "it must be the case that prison should aim, obviously to hold people securely and in a humane way, but work to reduce the risk of them re-offending when they come out ... you do not want prison to make people worse; you want prison to make people better." [15] We agree.

31. We also discussed potential changes to the inspection function as it related to the criminal justice system, with particular reference to the abrupt abolition of HM Inspectorate of Courts Administration and past proposals for a single criminal justice inspectorate that may be resurrected in the future. Mr Hardwick said that he used to feel there was some logic to merging inspectorates to reduce regulatory burdens. However—while recognising that some functions or services might be shared—he told us: "Now, understanding a bit more, the fact that something is called an 'inspectorate' does not of course mean that it is doing the same job as something else called an 'inspectorate'. I think there is a particular function for the Prisons Inspectorate ... about telling people about the conditions and treatment of prisoners ... that I think would get lost ... in a wider criminal justice inspectorate." He concluded that: "I would have a bias against that combination, but that does not mean I am not open to argument."[16]

Conclusion

32. We fully endorse Mr Hardwick's suitability for this appointment. We also endorse his preliminary view of the character and challenges of the role and that of the inspectorate overall. We welcome his demonstrable grasp of: the need for independence; the importance of a broad intelligence base to determine priorities; and the need for a watchful eye on the effects of the Government's policies on the reform, rehabilitation and resettlement of prisoners.

33. We look forward to a continuing dialogue—at least once a year—on progress in HM Inspectorate of Prison's monitoring, assessment and, where necessary, driving of the take up of best practice throughout the prison service. We wish Mr Hardwick success in leading this team as Chief Inspector.


10   Twelfth Report, 2008-09, Role of the Prison Officer, HC 361, paragraph 117 Back

11   Qq 50-53 Back

12   Ibid Back

13   Qq 42-3 Back

14   Qq 57-8  Back

15   Q 48 Back

16   Q 66 Back


 
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