Chief Inspector announces return to full inspections

Fourteen months after HM Inspectorate of Prisons suspended its programme of full inspections as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has announced that full inspection visits will resume on 10 May 2021.

Aside from a period of weeks in March and April 2020, the Inspectorate continued to visit prisons and places of detention, ensuring that we did so safely, operating under the ‘do no harm’ principle. We could not report effectively on treatment and conditions for prisoners and detainees without entering establishments.

However, the models we developed – announced one-day short scrutiny visits (SSVs) to groups of similar establishments, to July 2020, and then scrutiny visits (SVs) to individual establishments – were necessarily smaller in scale than our traditional full, unannounced inspections.

Full inspections, from 10 May, will reintroduce scores against our four healthy prison tests (safety, respect/care, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning). We will return to full prisoner/detainee surveys and inspections taking place with a team of inspectors and researchers over two or three weeks. We will assess progress against key recommendations from previous full inspections and, where appropriate, SVs, but inspection reports will note the context of the inspection – the continuing recovery from COVID-19. Full inspection reports will be published around 14 weeks after the end of the inspection.

Our full inspections in coming months will be announced to the prison/establishment on the Friday before the first week of the inspection. This is to allow for a risk assessment to take place in order to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19. Our researchers and inspectors will continue to follow the safety procedures – risk assessments, testing, masks and social distancing – that have underpinned our SVs. We will return to unannounced inspections as soon as it is safe to do so.

Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said:

“I am enormously proud of the dedication of the Inspectorate, who have been in the field since early in the pandemic knowing that independent scrutiny is always essential for closed institutions. I am delighted that we are now able to return to our full scored inspection programme.”