The prisons inspectorate is developing a new type of review to determine whether failing jails are making progress towards improving conditions, Civil Service World has learned.
Next year HM Inspectorate of Prisons will carry out its first independent reviews of progress (IRP) of prisons where its inspections have revealed “serious concerns in one or more of the HMIP healthy prison tests”, a spokesperson for the inspectorate told CSW. The healthy prison tests span four areas: safety, respect, purposeful activity (such as time out of cells and work activities) and resettlement.
The reviews will take place eight to 12 months after a full inspection. “The review visit will provide an independent, published assessment of how the prison is progressing against the main concerns and recommendations identified at the previous inspection,” the spokesperson said.
The process will be overseen by Peter Clarke, HM chief inspector of prisons. The Ministry of Justice announced this week it had reappointed Clarke, who became prisons inspector in February 2016 on a three-year term, to stay on for another year.
The reviews will help to improve accountability to ministers about the progress prisons are make towards achieving the inspectorate’s recommendations between inspections, the spokesperson said.
"Low achievement by prisons against inspectorate recommendations has been a feature at some of the prisons that have caused HMIP most concern, and the IRP process is intended to give an early independent view of progress to ministers," they added.
Earlier this year, the Justice Select Committee said there should be greater ministerial accountability for ensuring that the watchdog's recommendations are implemented. Following a damning report showing little improvement of conditions seen at HMP Liverpool in inspections two years apart, MPs on the committee said ministers and HM Prisons and Probations Service were effectively "marking their own homework" when it came to ensuring the inspectorate's recommendations were enacted.
Prisons that will receive an IRP include prisons that are subject to an urgent notification – the mechanism by which the inspectorate can instruct the justice secretary to respond publicly, within 28 days, with plans to improve conditions at a prison it has found to have significant problems. A prison may also be subject to a review if it is found to be unsafe because of high levels of violence, but falls short of the threshold for an urgent notification.
Clarke has issued four urgent notifications this year. In the most recent instance, he wrote to justice secretary David Gauke urging him to take “immediate and decisive intervention” at HMP Bedford, after an unannounced inspection “identified many significant concerns about the treatment and conditions of prisoners”.
He has also written to Gauke about HMP Birmingham, which the MoJ was forced to take control of in August from the private contractor G4S amid safety concerns, as well as HMP Nottingham and HMP Exeter.
The inspectorate is now developing the methodology for IRPs. The first full reviews will be published in 2019, but no date has been set for the publication of the first one.
In a message to staff on his reappointment, seen by CSW, Clarke said there was “still much to do” during what was “an important time in the history of the inspectorate”.
“The past year has been one of very significant change and solid achievement. This has come about on the back of a great deal of hard work and at times fearless reporting in difficult circumstances, for which I am immensely grateful to you all,” he said.
“However, there is still much to do to embed and drive forward the impact of the urgent notification protocol, to develop and implement the independent reviews of progress, and through our core work to ensure that we continue to increase our impact in line with our purpose, values and remit.”
Earlier this year, Clarke issued a stern warning about a “noticeable” increase in violence across the prison estate over the last five years. He said in the year to April 2018, his team had observed "some of the most disturbing prison conditions" his team has ever seen, which had “no place in an advanced nation”. He attributed the deterioration of standards recorded in his annual report to staffing cuts.
Clarke’s reappointment was made on the recommendation of prime minister Theresa May, the MoJ said, in line with the Governance Code on Public Appointments.
Before becoming the prisons inspector Clarke was a senior police officer in the Metropolitan Police Service, where he spent stints as assistant commissioner for specialist operations and head of the Counter Terrorism Command. He also investigated the so-called “Trojan Horse” schools scandal as education commissioner for Birmingham in 2014.