Research forms an important element of our inspection evidence. We gather and analyse quantitative and qualitative data about prisons and other places of detention. These findings are triangulated with other forms of evidence (inspectors’ observations and discussion with staff and detainees) to come to judgements about establishments.

In particular, we conduct a detainee survey as part of every inspection. We analyse this and provide inspectors with:

  • comparisons with previous inspections and surveys conducted at similar establishments
  • breakdowns of the data by different protected characteristics
  • thematic analysis of detainees’ written comments.

We develop additional research activities for thematic inspections. These may include:

  • literature reviews
  • semi-structured interviews with detainees and staff
  • focus groups
  • analysis of case files or other establishment data
  • or secondary analysis of survey data.

We also analyse recommendations, notable positive practice and healthy prison area assessments to provide management information and consultation responses, and for publication in the Chief Inspector’s annual report.

The Research, Development and Thematic (RDT) team at HMI Prisons comprises 12 researchers. Nearly all belong to the Government Social Research Service, a professional body for social researchers in government.

HMI Prisons also employs undergraduate students to work as research trainees during their placement year. Find out more about our current research trainees.