Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions

What is the role of HM Inspectorate of Prisons?

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons is appointed from outside the Prison Service, for a term of five years. The Chief Inspector reports directly to the government on the treatment and conditions for prisoners in England and Wales and other matters.

The Prisons Inspectorate also has statutory responsibility to inspect all immigration removal centres and holding facilities on behalf of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and has recently been invited to regularly inspect the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester. 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.

Who is the Chief Inspector of prisons?

Nick Hardwick CBE was appointed HM Chief Inspector of Prisons on 15 July 2010 and is the sixth holder of the office.

Nick Hardwick began work as Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons in July 2010.  He was previously the first Chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission from 2003 to 2010.
His earlier career was in the voluntary sector, where he began working with young offenders for NACRO (The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders). From 1986 to 1995 he worked as Chief Executive of Centrepoint – a charity and housing association for young homeless people.  In 1992 he was seconded to the Department of Environment to work as a special adviser to the then Housing Minister, Sir George Young Bt. MP.  He was the Chief Executive of the Refugee Council from 1995 to 2003.
He is currently chair of the Housing Ombudsman Service (no remuneration taken) and a trustee of New Horizon Youth Centre. 
Nick has a BA (Hons) from Hull University in English Literature and has an Honorary Doctorate in Social Sciences from the University of Wolverhampton.  He was awarded a CBE in 2010. 
He lives in London with his wife and son.

Salary and pension
Nick Hardwick CBE, currently receives a remuneration package of £115,000 and is a member of the Civil Service Premium Pension Scheme, which is an occupational defined benefit pension scheme.
Pension contributions are currently 3.5% of pensionable earnings and it is ‘contracted-out’ of the state scheme. Payable pension is 1/60 of final pensionable earnings for every year of reckonable service in the scheme.
His expenses incurred undertaking his role of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons can be found at the following link, 'Expenses'.

What other staff work at the Inspectorate?

The Chief Inspector, Nick Hardwick, 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, adult women's or men's prisons.

Inspection staff include:

  • healthcare inspectors
  • drugs inspectors
  • a head of thematic inspections
  • researchers
  • editorial and administrative staff

The Prisons Inspectorate works jointly with other inspectorates such as Ofsted, the Dental Practice Board and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. This joint work ensures expert knowledge is deployed on prison inspections and avoids multiple inspection visits.

What do the inspections consist of?

The Inspectorate’s programme of inspection is based on a mixture of chronology and risk assessment. Full inspections run on a five or three year cycle; all unannounced follow-up inspections run on a risk-assessed basis. The annual programme of police custody inspection includes a balance of announced and unannounced inspections, a mix of high, medium and low risk areas and a combination of Metropolitan boroughs and provincial forces.

Full inspections

Prison establishments holding adults and young adults are inspected once every five years. Establishments holding juveniles are inspected every three years. Full inspections of individual forces or Metropolitan Police boroughs are carried out every five to six years.

Prison inspections last for at least one week, and police inspections for a few days to a week depending on the number of custody suites within the force or borough. The Inspectorate collects information from many sources, including the people who work there, the people who are imprisoned or detained there, and visitors or others with an interest in the establishment. Inspection findings are reported back to the establishment’s managers. Reports are published within 18 weeks of inspection. The establishment is then expected to produce an action plan, based on the recommendations made within the report, within a short period following publication.

Full follow-up inspections

Follow-up inspections are unannounced and proportionate to risk. In full follow-up inspections inspectors assess progress made and undertake in-depth analysis of areas of serious concern identified in the previous full inspection, particularly on safety and respect.

Short follow-up inspections

Short follow-up inspections are also unannounced and conducted where the previous full inspection and our intelligence systems suggest that there are comparatively fewer concerns.

Immigration removal centre and short-term holding facility inspections

Every immigration removal centre (IRC) will receive a full announced inspection once every three years. The inspection lasts for one week. Follow-up inspections of IRCs are conducted on a risk-assessed basis. All non-residential short-term holding facilities (STHFs) are inspected on a six-year cycle. All residential STHFs are inspected on a four-year cycle.

Escort inspections

Three escort inspections are conducted every year.

What is the inspection methodology?

There are three stages to each inspection:

  • pre-inspection visit
  • the inspection
  • post-inspection action

Pre-inspection visit

One month prior to each full announced inspection, an inspector will visit the establishment to plan the inspection and request a range of preliminary information.

In addition, researchers will attend to conduct a confidential survey of a representative proportion of the prisoner population. Results from the prisoner survey are provided for inspectors prior to the inspection and constitute an important source of evidence.

The inspection

All inspections are conducted against the Inspectorate's published inspection criteria, 'Expectations'. 'Expectations' are based on international human rights standards, as well as Prison Service orders and standards, and over all issues considered essential to the safe, respectful and purposeful treatment of offenders in custody and their effective resettlement.

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

Inspection findings are fed back to the Governor and key members of staff throughout the inspection. A formal debrief to the Governor and senior managers is held on the last day of the inspection.

Post-inspection action

Inspection reports are published within 18 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 plain is produced after a further 12 months.

How is the inspection process quality assured?

Following every inspection, feedback is sought on the inspection process from the prison Governor, 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 - particularly 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 when 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.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons


Get email alerts
Find a form
Find a court form