Read short scrutiny visit reports on the reports page of our website.

Short scrutiny visits (SSVs) were introduced in April 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In August 2020, we replaced them with scrutiny visits (SVs), which reflected our updated approach to inspection in light of the changing circumstances around COVID-19. Read more about scrutiny visits.

SSVs aimed to:

  • fulfil HMI Prisons’ statutory duty to report on treatment and conditions effectively, without adding unreasonable burdens to a system currently dealing with unprecedented challenges
  • promote transparency about the response to COVID-19 in places of detention and ensure that lessons can be learned quickly
  • use an adapted methodology which provides effective independent scrutiny while adhering at all times to the ‘do no harm’ principle.

This meant that HMI Prisons would not put detainees, prison staff or its own staff at unreasonable risk and worked in line with national public health guidance.

HMI Prisons recognised that at times of crisis and operational pressure, the risks of both conscious and unintentional mistreatment increase, and external perspective and oversight of closed institutions become even more important than usual. By identifying concerns, we also aimed to promote more effective and safer practices in prisons, thereby supporting public health.

Key characteristics of SSVs were that only two to three inspectors attended establishments, including a health inspector. Each visit took place over the course of a single day, and focused on a small number of issues which were essential to the care and basic rights of those detained in the circumstances.

These critical areas include: care for the most vulnerable prisoners and the need for meaningful human contact; support for those at risk of self-harm and suicide; hygiene; legal rights; health care; access to fresh air; contact with families, friends and the outside world; and support and risk management for those being released.

SSVs did not allow the exhaustive triangulation of evidence that characterises inspections. However, they did enable us to tell the story of life in prison during the crisis and comment on the proportionality of the action being taken.


Notable positive practice

Letter to HM Prison and Probation Service (294 kB)

This letter provided a summary of all examples of notable positive practice (NPP) observed on our short scrutiny visits in May and June 2020. You can find a full list of all examples of NPP identified during our SSV programme here.



Short scrutiny visits methodology – prisons (158 kB)

Short scrutiny visits methodology – women’s prisons (292 kB)

Short scrutiny visits methodology – IRCs (285 kB)

Health and safety guidance (315 kB)