Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

66. Memorandum from HM Inspectorate of Prisons (England and Wales)


  1.  I am grateful for this opportunity to provide evidence to the Committee on the role of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons in relation to monitoring human rights compliance within prisons. It may be helpful to the Committee if I begin by setting out the role and functions of this Inspectorate.

  2.  The Prisons Inspectorate has a statutory responsibility to inspect and report on conditions in prisons and the treatment of prisoners in England and Wales (and at present by invitation in Northern Ireland); as well as all immigration detention centres in the United Kingdom. Unlike most other Inspectorates, we do not therefore directly monitor the Prison Service itself (for example, its organisation, staff recruitment and training), but rather prisons themselves and the outcomes for prisoners within them.

  3.  In support of our remit, we carry out announced inspections of each prison every five years (spending about a week in each), publish a report, and follow this up by a short unannounced inspection a year or two later to monitor progress against our recommendations. We also carry out larger unannounced inspections of establishments where we believe there is, or may be, cause for concern. We inspect juvenile prisons once every three years, and carry out educational inspections each year. Finally, we undertake thematic reviews, examining particular aspects of prison life: such as the treatment of women, our young people in prison, resettlement or suicide prevention. In relation to our new responsibility to inspect immigration detention centres, we are in the process of carrying out a series of inspections, to report on some of them and to develop our own criteria and methodology for such inspections.

  4.  In addition, the Home Secretary can instruct me to report on specific matters connected with prisons. This would allow him, for example, to extend my remit in respect of particular areas or activities that he may wish me to monitor.

  5.  The Inspectorate has a permanent staff of 24 inspectors, researchers and support staff, drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds, including the prison and probation services, social work, civil service, health service and non-governmental organisations. They are supported by specialist inspectors, including members of the education and training Inspectorates, OFSTED and ALI.

Question 1

  6.  The independent inspection of prisons, focusing on the treatment and condition of prisoners, clearly raises fundamental issues of human rights and human dignity. This role is particularly important for people held in closed conditions and out of sight of society at large.

  7.  This Inspectorate has, over time, developed its own criteria against which prisons will be inspected. This is published in a document called Expectations (copy attached).[75] This is based upon the "healthy prison" concept, developed by the World Health Organisation. There are four tests of a healthy prison: whether prisoners are safe, whether they are treated with respect, whether they have access to purposeful activity, and whether they are prepared for resettlement into the community and therefore assisted to prevent reoffending. Expectations covers all aspects of prison life, from reception to release, and draws on international human rights standards and principles, among other things.

  8.  We are at present in the process of revising and updating Expectations, and in that process we will take account of new developments in law and practice, including the requirements of the Human Rights and Race Relations (Amendment) Acts. However, it is important to stress that Expectations goes beyond strict legal requirements, and present Prison Service standards, rules and procedures. It is designed to set out what should be provided if a prison is to be a place where prisoners are treated decently, safely and positively.

Question 2

  9.  As stated above, my remit does not cover the performance of the Prison Service itself, or directly address the approach of staff. However, I can and do comment on the effect on prisoners of the culture and attitudes of staff: indeed, the culture of a prison is something that we are very concerned to discover and describe. It is fundamental to the right treatment of prisoners. The healthy prison concept is firmly rooted in fundamental human rights concepts: the need to protect the dignity and integrity of each individual, and to interfere with individuals' rights only to the extent that can be shown to be proportionate and necessary in the context of imprisonment.

Question 3

  10.  I have attached a copy of Expectations, and also attach a copy of two recent prison reports.[76] It will be evident from those reports that human rights issues are dealt with indirectly, rather than specifically. However, in more recent and as yet unpublished reports we have made more direct reference to international human rights standards. As noted above, we are also revising Expectations at present to take more specific account of the effects of the Human Rights Act.

Questions 4, 5 and 6

  11.  No, for the reasons given above. These would be matters that fall outside my remit.

Question 7

  12.  I believe that this inspectorate can and should make more use of human rights criteria, both those found in "soft" international law and those arising from obligations under the Human Rights Act. However, unless specifically instructed to do so by Ministers, this will not include advising or monitoring the Prison Service itself.

  13.  In relation to the important human rights elements of my existing remit, however, we would be greatly assisted by independent advice and support in translating those principles and obligations into our own operational context. As the Committee is well aware, the question of human rights compliance is specialist, complex, and subject to changing interpretation. Inspectors will not normally come from a legal or human rights background, and they are essentially operational (with a heavy programme of 70 inspections and reports per year). It is important that what we say is authoritative and objective. Equally, in order to protect our independence it is important that we are able to obtain advice and information from a similarly independent body.

  14.  As a comparison, it may be useful to describe the activity and process that has surrounded the introduction of new anti-discrimination obligations on the Prison Service under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act. This requires the Prison Service, along with all other criminal justice agencies, to prevent discrimination and promote equality. The Commission for Racial Equality has identified the criminal justice inspectorates has having a key role in assessing their services' compliance with the Act. It is working with all the criminal justice inspectorates to develop a framework for inspecting, and has offered to set up training and support in implementing this. I believe that this illustrates the important role that a Commission can play in enabling and supporting Inspectorates to carry out the task of assessing compliance.

April 2002

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