Chief Inspector of Prisons publishes Annual Report

HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) generated new and unprecedented levels of accountability and transparency in the scrutiny of prisons in England and Wales in 2018–19, according to HM Chief Inspector Peter Clarke.

Publishing his annual report, Mr Clarke made clear that robust independent scrutiny was vital after another deeply troubling year for some parts of the prison estate. Too many prisons continued to be plagued by drugs, violence, appalling living conditions and a lack of access to meaningful rehabilitative activity.

What goes on in prisons remained largely unseen by the public and the media. However, in 2018–19 Mr Clarke used the Urgent Notification protocol – requiring the Secretary of State publicly to respond with action to improve a jail with significant problems – three times. Those prisons were HMPs Exeter, Bedford and Birmingham, where inspectors found some of the worst conditions they had ever seen.

The Inspectorate also secured funding and developed the methodology for its new Independent Reviews of Progress (IRPs), designed to give ministers an independent assessment of how well failing jails were addressing key Inspectorate recommendations.

Mr Clarke made clear he believes such independent scrutiny is vital, given his reservations about the effectiveness of the current HMPPS ‘special measures’ system.

The most troubled part of the prison estate

As in previous years, men’s local and training prisons – with their high throughput of prisoners, often worn-out fabric, vulnerable populations and levels of violence and illicit drugs use – caused most concern.
The report also discloses significant prisoner vulnerability. Across the service, levels of self‑harm were disturbingly high and self-inflicted deaths tragically increased by nearly one-fifth on the previous year.

The extraordinary dedication of staff

Inspectors were struck, as in previous years, “by the extraordinary dedication of those who work in our prisons. Their work is difficult, often dangerous, largely unseen by the public and, as a result, little understood.”

Variations in performance and the quality of leadership

The report highlights evidence that performance varies between comparable prisons and makes clear the Chief Inspector’s view that the quality of leadership is a vital factor. “Some issues that have an adverse impact on prisoners are often outside the control of prison leaders.

“However, there is much that is firmly within the control of those whose responsibility it is to lead and manage these complex establishments. It is as clear as day… that the variations in performance of apparently comparable jails is directly influenced by the quality of their leadership.”

Key findings

The report contains information from inspections of adult prisons and children’s detention, as well as immigration and other forms of detention.

  • Men’s prisons: Too many prisoners were still being held in prisons that were unsafe. Levels of violence had increased in more than half the prisons we inspected. Inspectors noted the positive impact of in-cell phones and electronic kiosks for prisoners to make applications, health care appointments, arrange visits and make complaints. However, far too many prisoners still endured very poor and overcrowded living conditions. Though around two-thirds overall were positive about the way they were treated by staff, inspectors frequently found that prisoners from black and minority ethnic backgrounds had less positive views of their treatment and conditions. There was no clear strategy for older prisoners. In only a third of the adult male prisons inspected was purposeful activity judged to be good or reasonably good. Overall, there was some progress in rehabilitation and release planning but much remained to be done, particularly around prisoners who presented a potentially high risk of harm to the public being released without a full risk assessment.
  • Women’s prisons: Overall, inspectors continued to find that outcomes for women held in prison were better than for men.
  • Children’s custody: HMIP inspected four young offender institutions and three secure training centres. Safety assessment had improved in three inspections. Nevertheless, levels of violence remained high and bullying was a constant concern.
  • Immigration detention: Inspection outcomes were good or reasonably good. However, detainees continued to feel unsafe and uncertain because there was too often a lack of clarity as to what the future held for them.
  • Police custody: HMIP, with HMICFRS, jointly wrote to Chief Constables expressing concern about the governance and oversight of the use of force.

Read the full press release here.

Read the 2018-19 Annual Report here.