Chief Inspector announces new independent reviews of progress in troubled jails

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke, has announced an important series of new follow-up visits to failing and unsafe prisons designed to give the government an independent assessment of how much progress has been made in improving the treatment and conditions for prisoners.

Independent Reviews of Progress (IRPs) will start in April 2019 and reports will be published 25 days after the visits.

IRPs will give ministers independent evidence about how far jails have implemented HMI Prisons’ recommendations following particularly concerning inspections. The Justice Select Committee supported this aim, stating that HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) should not “mark its own homework” when reporting on the achievement of recommendations.

It is currently envisaged that up to 20 IRPs – short visits of two-and-a-half days – will take place each year. HMI Prisons has secured extra funding from the Ministry of Justice to ensure it can conduct the IRPs in addition to its existing schedule of mainstream inspections of prisons and youth custody facilities in England and Wales.

Prisons will be told in advance they are subject to an IRP, in contrast to the mostly unannounced full inspections. The IRP schedule – along with a very small number of announced full inspections – will be published on the HMIP website once the IRPs have been announced.

Prisons subject to the Chief Inspector’s Urgent Notification (UN) protocol will be a priority under the IRP model. In the business year 2018-19, three prisons were issued with UNs – which require the Secretary of State to respond publicly within 28 days. They were HMP Exeter, HMP Birmingham and HMP Bedford.

The other prisons that have so far been notified of an IRP visit are Chelmsford, The Mount, Manchester and Highdown. HMP Chelmsford was told by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, that it narrowly escaped an Urgent Notification at its last full inspection because of his guarded confidence that the local and regional management could tackle major safety problems at the jail. The IRP will test progress at the prison.

The revised operating protocol between HMIP and the Ministry of Justice states: “The purpose of an IRP is to assess progress in implementing the recommendations from previous inspection reports, to support improvement in prisons, and to identify barriers to progress.

“IRPs differ from inspections, which assess the treatment of prisoners and the conditions of detention against HMIP’s ‘Expectations’ and four healthy prison tests. The IRPs instead follow up on a selection of key concerns and recommendations, and make judgements about the extent of progress made. HMCIP will identify establishments for an IRP based on a number of factors, including: healthy prison test scores over time (and) the key risks at the establishment.”  IRPs will typically take place 8 to 12 months following the full inspection.

Mr Clarke said:

“IRPs are an important new area of work for us. They are designed to give the Secretary of State an independent assessment of whether prisons we have found to be unsafe or otherwise failing are getting to grips with our key recommendations for improvement. There are many governing teams and staff working hard in very challenging jails and through our IRPs we will work constructively with them to support the improvements we all want to see.”