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How we inspect

Our methodology

Inspectors use five different methods to gather evidence on inspections.

Observation: inspectors will make observations at different locations and different times of the day, including evening association times. Inspectors will watch interactions and assess the quality of staff-detainee relationships. Observations will include a night visit by inspectors and a full assessment of night procedures.
Speaking to detainees: listening to detainees is a central part of any inspection. In addition to the detainee survey, inspectors will speak to detainees to gain a sense about what really happens in the establishment. If inspectors wish to speak to detainees who cannot speak English, they will use a telephone interpreting service. Detainees can speak to inspectors in private and in confidence.
Speaking to staff: in addition to the staff survey, inspectors will speak to staff informally as they walk around the establishment and in individual interviews. They will ask staff what they think really happens in the establishment, about policies and procedures, and their individual role. Inspectors will talk to a range of staff, including senior managers, wing staff, and specialist staff.
Speaking to other organisations: inspectors will speak to people from organisations who work with or in the establishment – for example representatives from the Youth Justice Board, Independent Monitoring Board, voluntary groups and solicitors – about their experiences and the experiences of the detainees they represent. Visitors can also be a good source of information.
Documentation: in addition to the evidence we ask the establishment to provide at the start of the inspection, inspectors will look at detainee records, performance data, care plans and other important documentation to corroborate their findings. The inspection team may also take photographs to illustrate conditions that cannot be adequately described or to emphasise a finding.

Inspectors feed back their findings to managers and the governor throughout the inspection. The Chief Inspector of Prisons or the Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons joins the team on the penultimate day to contribute to the quality assurance and assessment process at the end of the inspection. The whole team then presents the key findings and assessments to the establishment on the final day of the inspection. This is followed up by a meeting between the Chief or Deputy Chief Inspector, the inspection team leader, and the governor/director of the prison.

Our inspection reports are published within 14 weeks of our visit. We then expect the establishment to produce an action plan which sets out how they intend to address the concerns we have raised shortly after publication.

Our Expectations

Inspectors use documents called ‘Expectations’ to guide them on inspection. Expectations set out what we expect establishments to be doing and provide a list of indicators, which may show that an establishment is achieving an expectation. There is a different version of Expectations for each type of custody we inspect. Expectations are not a tick-list of what establishments should do to be successful. Rather they provide a framework to help inspectors ask the right questions and consider the right evidence to gain a full picture for each healthy establishment test.

Read our Expectations

Our assessments

The inspection team assesses the establishment’s performance against four ‘healthy establishment’ tests. In prisons and young offender institutions the tests are:

The tests vary slightly for immigration detention.

For each test, the team will make one of the following judgements.

Outcomes for prisoners are good. There is no evidence that outcomes for detainees are being adversely affected in any significant areas.
Outcomes for prisoners are reasonably good. There is evidence of adverse outcomes for detainees in only a small number of areas. For the majority there are no significant concerns.
Outcomes for prisoners are not sufficiently good. There is evidence that outcomes for detainees are being adversely affected in many areas or particularly in those areas of greatest importance to the well-being of detainees. Problems/concerns, if left unattended, are likely to become areas of serious concern.
Outcomes for prisoners are poor. There is evidence that the outcomes for detainees are seriously affected by current practice. There is a failure to ensure even adequate treatment of and/or conditions for detainees. Immediate remedial action is required.

You can find out more about how we inspect in our inspection framework.

Inspection framework
(PDF, 431 KB)

Sometimes we might have concerns about the safety of adults or children in detention during our inspections. Find out how we deal with those concerns.

Child protection policy
(PDF, 253 KB)

We speak to prisoners and detainees as part of our inspections. Find out what we do if prisoners or detainees think they have been sanctioned or punished for talking to us.

Sanctions protocol
(PDF, 329 KB)

Our partners

We often work with other inspectorates during our inspections.

In addition, the Chief Inspector may inspect the Military Corrective Training Centre, military service custody facilities and prisons in Northern Ireland and prisons in the Channel Islands and Isle of Man.

Find out more about our work with other organisations.