Prison Inspections: Everything you need to know

Prison Inspections

Prison inspections are vital in ensuring inmate health and the general integrity of the facility. You may not have considered the processes that occur inside prisons or how health in prisons is maintained. This article will tell you everything you need to know about the protocols that are adhered to when it comes to prison inspections. 

How often are prison inspections conducted?

Prisons need to be inspected at least once every five years. But high-risk facilities are inspected more regularly, especially those holding young people. The frequency at which prisons are ordinarily evaluated depends on the discretion of the establishment, considering the types of custodial sectors they have available. 

The regularity of their inspections also depends on any issues that were identified during previous inspections, the size of the facility, any management changes that could pose issues, or any anonymous tip-offs that may imply that a vulnerability is close to being exploited. 

How are inspections scheduled?

The majority of prison inspections are unannounced and are scheduled with consideration to a couple of factors. These aspects include:

  • How safe the prison is for the inmates.
  • The level of respect between the officers and inmates, as well as how likely it is that there could be a confrontation. 
  • The number of planned activities available to inmates will positively impact them. 
  • The efficiency of the rehabilitation programme and the level of support available to them. 
  • The release planning and how prepared the inmates to feel for their release into society. 

Each establishment is normally inspected over two weeks to ensure adequate preparation and research are carried out before the actual prison inspection begins. The inspectors will speak to large pools of people on all sides of the prison, from inmates to the cafeteria chefs. This will ensure that the inspectors develop a well-rounded perspective of the prison. So they can act accordingly. 

Can inspections be rejected? 

No. Regardless of whether the prison has been provided with a prior warning or the inspectors arrive unannounced, the establishment has no basis to reject an inspection. An attempted rejection would suggest that there is something wrong with the facility.

Who conducts the inspections?

As there are several types of holding facilities, there are also various external companies that carry out prison inspections. In the UK, we have the HM Inspectorate Of Prisons, a partner of the Ministry of Justice, who inspect various types of facilities to report on the conditions of the facilities and the treatment of the inmates. Their findings are presented to the establishment’s managers, who are expected to make changes.

The different types of holding facilities

Due to the ethics of placing offending children and foreign nationals in the same facilities as adult offenders, several types of institutions exist to house them all. These establishments include: 

Young offenders

These facilities hold those under 18. The prison inspections here are conducted annually. 

Secure Training Centres

HM Inspectorate of Prisons doesn’t run the inspections in these facilities. Instead, these centres (which hold young offenders up to the age of 17) are inspected by Ofsted. 

Short-term holding facilities

This is the first step of the deportation process. These are inspected at least once every six years and are scheduled following risk assessments. 

Immigration removal centres

This is the second step of deportation. These facilities are inspected every four years, but more often when there are children present. 

Escort Inspections

This is the last stage of the deportation process when foreign nationals are returned to their country of origin and are inspected bi-yearly. 

Court custody

There are detainment cells that detain those awaiting trial. They’re inspected three times a year. 

Military detention

This is where all military personnel are taken after being arrested and are inspected every two to three years by invitation from the military.  

Health in prisons

Additionally to the comfort of inmates, health in prisons must also be carefully monitored to ensure that inmates don’t fall ill or become subject to injury while in detention. There are a few health and safety risks managers of prisons need to consider to maintain the general health of the facility. 

Preventable accidents

Minor hazards are to be expected in any industry. This is something that inspectors will identify during their investigations and advise the facility on solving. An example of preventable accidents is:


As with any facility, standard hazards like slips are to be expected. Wet floor surfaces or various contaminants like fats and oils, as well as flooring with different degrees of traction, are all things that will be noted during inspections. Ensuring that there are no continually leaking pipes or spills that staff is leaving in to the pool is important to prevent slips and injury to inmates. 


There may be issues within the prison itself that prison inspectors may find that could compromise health in prisons if not addressed quickly. Contamination can be fixed once identified, but some problems may need more work than others. 

Water contamination

Water contamination can occur when the facilities in which the water is stored come into contact with inedible substances or harmful bacteria. Water tanks should be inspected every six months to ensure that they aren’t experiencing deterioration that could lead to poor prison health if not addressed quickly. Deterioration is a natural process that occurs as a result of metals in the tank rotting and falling away from years of use. 

Deterioration can lead to sediment build-up. Although this doesn’t directly affect human health when ingested, it can clog up the tank and prevent it from working properly. If sediment is allowed to develop for years, it will harden and possibly cause a split in the water tank. Splits can allow bacteria to enter the tank and form algae if left untreated. This is a risk to prison health. This is why it is so important for inspectors to check for contamination. 

What are the benefits of prison inspections

Essentially, prison inspections are integral in maintaining prison health and ensuring that inmates are being treated fairly and humanely.