Frequently asked questions

What is the role of HM Inspectorate of Prisons?

The Chief Inspector reports directly to the government on the treatment and conditions of prisoners and those held in custodial establishments in England and Wales.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons has a statutory responsibility to inspect all prisons, young offender institutions, secure training centres, immigration detention facilities, police and court custody suites, customs custody facilities and military detention in England and Wales. In addition, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons is invited to inspect prisons in Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and some Commonwealth dependent territories.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons is appointed from outside the Prison Service, for a term of three years.


Who is the Chief Inspector of Prisons?

The Chief Inspector of Prisons is Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM. For more information, read his profile.


What other staff work at the Inspectorate?

The Chief Inspector has six inspection teams working to a Deputy Chief Inspector. Each team specialises in the inspection of a specific type of custodial establishment, for example, young offender institutions, immigration removal centres, and adult women’s or men’s prisons.

Inspection staff include:

  • health care inspectors
  • drug inspectors
  • a head of research and thematics
  • researchers
  • editorial and administrative staff

The Prisons Inspectorate works jointly with other inspectorates such as Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation. This joint work ensures expert knowledge is deployed on prison inspections and avoids multiple inspection visits.


What do the inspections consist of?

Please see ‘About our Inspections‘.


What is the inspection methodology?

All inspections are conducted against the Inspectorate’s published inspection criteria, Expectations. Expectations are based on international human rights standards, as well as issues considered essential to the safe, respectful and purposeful treatment of detainees in custody and their effective resettlement. Expectations are also based on the rules, regulations and guidelines by which the custodial establishment is run, for example, with reference to prisons they also consider Prison Service orders and standards.

Expectations specify the criteria for inspection and indicate the sources of evidence upon which an assessment can be made. Sources of evidence include individual interviews carried out with staff and detainees, survey results, group discussions with detainees, documentation, and observation by inspectors.

Inspection reports are published within 14 weeks of the inspection. Prior to publication, the Prison Service (or whoever is responsible for the establishment) is invited to correct any factual inaccuracies within the report. The establishment is then expected to produce an action plan, based on the recommendations made in the report, within two months of publication. A progress report on the action plan is produced after a further 12 months.


What judgements do you use? 

At the end of each inspection, we make a judgement about the quality of outcomes for prisoners in each of our healthy prison tests.

– outcomes for prisoners are good.

There is no evidence that outcomes for prisoners are being adversely affected in any significant areas.

– outcomes for prisoners are reasonably good.

There is evidence of adverse outcomes for prisoners in only a small number of areas. For the majority, there are no significant concerns. Procedures to safeguard outcomes are in place.

– outcomes for prisoners are not sufficiently good.

There is evidence that outcomes for prisoners are being adversely affected in many areas or particularly in those areas of greatest importance to the well-being of prisoners. Problems/concerns, if left unattended, are likely to become areas of serious concern.

– outcomes for prisoners are poor.

There is evidence that the outcomes for prisoners are seriously affected by current practice. There is a failure to ensure even adequate treatment of and/or conditions for prisoners. Immediate remedial action is required.


How is the inspection process quality assured?

Following every inspection, feedback is sought on the inspection process from whoever is responsible for the establishment, for example for prisons, from the prison governor. Feedback is also sought from the senior management team and the liaison officer in order to improve methodology.

An annual survey is conducted of the Inspectorate’s main stakeholders on the structure and content of our inspection reports to ensure that reports are as appropriate and informative for as many audiences as possible.


Does the Inspectorate do any other work?

Yes, the Inspectorate also publishes thematic reviews,  which are studies conducted on specific custodial issues. These reviews are increasingly jointly conducted with other inspectorates Рparticularly criminal justice inspectorates on wider criminal justice issues.


How do I make a complaint against HM Inspectorate of Prisons?

Although we set ourselves high standards, there may be occasions where you are dissatisfied with the way we have conducted ourselves. Our complaints page provides information on how to complain about HM Inspectorate of Prisons or a member of our staff, and how we will respond.