On 17 March 2020, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, announced that all of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ (HMI Prisons) scheduled inspection work involving visits to prisons or other places of detention had been suspended up to the end of May 2020. This affected inspections, independent reviews of progress and visits as part of thematic inspection work.

However, the Chief Inspector has an ongoing statutory duty to report on treatment and conditions for those detained. As such, HMI Prisons worked intensively to create an adapted approach for this period. The methodology was developed together with health and safety guidance and in line with the principle of ‘do no harm’.

There are three parts to the methodology:

  • Analysis of laws, policies and practices introduced in places of detention in response to COVID-19 and their impact on treatment and conditions;
  • Seeking, collating and analysing information about treatment and conditions in places of detention in order to assess risks and identify possible problems in individual establishments or developing across establishment types. This includes making risk-based recommendations for further monitoring and/or short scrutiny visits;
  • Taking a more active scrutiny approach informed by the above analysis, which may include undertaking short scrutiny visits to establishments based on risk or to a group of establishments based on establishment type.

You can read more about short scrutiny visits in the methodology documents provided in the ‘Short scrutiny visits’ page to the left. In brief, key characteristics of short scrutiny visits are that only two to three inspectors attend establishments, including a health inspector. Each visit takes place over the course of a single day, and will focus on a small number of issues which are essential to the safety, care and basic rights of those detained in the current circumstances. Short scrutiny visits enable us to tell the story of life in prison during the crisis and comment on the proportionality of the action being taken.

In preparing and implementing our response to COVID-19, we have worked with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and the Prison and Probation Ombudsman. You can read our Memoranda of Understanding with them below, along with statements previously published by HMI Prisons.

HMI Prisons statement 1 June 2020 (PDF) (82.70 kB)

HMI Prisons statement 8 April 2020 (PDF) (81.44 kB)

HMI Prisons statement 17 March 2020 (PDF) (78.93 kB)

Memorandum of Understanding between HMI Prisons and the Prison and Probation Ombudsman – COVID-19 (181.45 kB)

Addendum to Memorandum of Understanding with HMPPS (327.54 kB)