About our inspections
Prisons are inspected at least once every five years, although we expect to inspect most establishments every two to three years. Some high-risk establishments may be inspected more frequently, including those holding children and young people. Other types of custodial sectors have different inspection cycles. The inspection of facilities is predicated on a dynamic risk assessment, taking into account issues such as time since the last inspection, type and size of establishment, significant changes to the establishment or changes in leadership, and intelligence received.
The majority of inspections are full and unannounced, assessing progress made since previous inspections and undertaking in-depth analysis.
In exceptional circumstances, and on the basis of risk, some inspections will be announced and the prison will be informed in advance of the visit. On our unannounced inspections, the inspection team visits without notifying the establishment in advance. On all inspections, inspectors have the right to carry out inspections and cannot be refused entry by the establishment.
The establishments that we inspect are:
Inspections of prisons, young offender institutions holding young adults (those aged 18 to 21), and specialist units take place at least every five years, but usually more frequently, and on a risk-assessed basis.
The majority of inspections are unannounced and are scheduled proportionate to risk. Inspectors undertake in-depth analysis of the four ‘healthy prison’ areas: safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement, as well as following up recommendations from previous inspections. Some inspections are announced and the prison is informed in advance of the visit.
Prison inspections normally span two weeks, with two days of preparation and research during the first week. The Inspectorate collects information from many sources, including the people who work there, those who are imprisoned or detained there, and visitors or others with an interest in the establishment. Inspection findings are reported back to the establishment’s managers. Reports are published within 18 weeks of inspection. The establishment is then expected to produce an action plan, based on the report’s recommendations, within a short period following publication. For more information see our Inspection Framework.
Some of these are juvenile establishments that hold children under the age of 18. Other establishments hold young adults over the age of 18. Juvenile establishments are inspected annually.
These are purpose-built establishments that hold young offenders up to the age of 17. Secure Training Centres are inspected every year. Ofsted lead these inspections, accompanied by HMI Prisons inspectors.
Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) hold foreign nationals who do not have a legal right to remain in the United Kingdom but decline to leave.
Every IRC will be inspected at least once every four years, on a risk-assessed basis. If the centre holds children they are inspected more frequently.
Border Force (Customs) Facilities
Border Force facilities are inspected approximately every two years.
Escorts are usually chartered flights which escort immigration detainees who are being removed from the United Kingdom to their countries of origin. The Inspectorate conducts two to three escort inspections every year.
Short-term holding facilities hold people waiting to be removed to an immigration removal centre or awaiting deportation. Non-residential short-term holding facilities are inspected at least once every six years. Residential short-term holding facilities are inspected at least once every four years. Inspections are scheduled on a risk-assessed basis.
Police custody suites are used by the police to detain and hold people who have been arrested until their investigation is processed. Our inspections are carried out with HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.
Every police force has one custody suite and most have between five and 15. We inspect a force’s custody suites at least once every six years; or more often if concerns have been raised during a previous inspection.
Inspections span two weeks, depending on the number of custody suites within the force or borough.
At the request of the Ministry of Defence, we inspect service custody facilities. These custody facilities are cells where Navy, Air Force and Army police hold military personnel who have been arrested.
Military facility inspections are conducted every two to three years by agreement and invitation from the military.
Court cells detain people who are awaiting trial or sentence. The Inspectorate undertakes three court custody inspections a year. Inspectors visit all courts containing cells within the region they are are inspecting.