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New Chief Inspector of Prisons discusses priorities at CJA Members Meeting

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor began his role as the Chief Inspector of Prisons last November. He joined us at our last Members Meeting to discuss his priorities for the next five years.

Charlie said that his first priority is to maintain and build on the reputation of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMI Prisons). He noted that his predecessors and staff have built HMI Prisons into an organisation which is independent, strong, fearless, knowledgeable, well-respected and able provide impartial reporting on conditions and treatment of people in custody. He praised the dedication and hard work of his team, especially in delivering short scrutiny visits throughout the pandemic.

Charlie said that his second priority will be monitoring how prisons continue to respond to the pandemic. He discussed HMI Prisons’ recent report, What happens to prisoners in a pandemic?, which drew on inspectors’ interviews with 72 prisoners in six different prisons.

Charlie said: ‘There is this malaise that has come over prisoners, a sense of hopelessness and helplessness, that they aren’t making progress with their sentences. They’re unable to demonstrate that their behaviour is improving. They can’t stay in contact in a meaningful way with family and friends, despite the excellent work of the prison service to improve the quality of technology. They feel incredibly stuck.’

Charlie noted that some prisons had been very ambitious about getting people out of their cells and returning to normality last summer, whereas others hadn’t. He said that inspectors will be monitoring the pace at which prisons unlock when they are safe to do so. Charlie also highlighted that there is lots of discussion about what prison regimes will look like after the pandemic, and he said HMI Prisons will want to see this policy as it develops, ensuring that inspectors hold any new regime to the same standards as they currently do.

The Chief Inspector said that he wants to increase the focus on leadership in inspections and has been working with the team to do so. HMI Prisons recently ran a consultation on a new draft version of its Expectations for Leadership. Expectations are the documents which set out the criteria inspectors monitor prisons against.

He said: ‘We know that leadership standards are one of the most important things that helps a prison get better. This isn’t just leadership at governor level, but also leadership below governors; from the deputy governors down to the middle leadership on the wings. The difference that a really great custodial manager makes to the quality of life on a wing and the morale of the staff is enormous and I’m very keen that we do as much as we can to focus in on this good practice when we see it.’

The Chief Inspector also spoke about the importance of data.

‘There’s lots of data collected, but it’s not always used in the most effective way to understand what’s going on, making plans, monitoring plans and understanding whether plans have been successful. Data isn’t the be-all and end-all, it is simply a means to an end. But refined use of data will help people prioritise what they do in prisons. It will also help us with leads we follow when we go in to inspect.

‘There will be no substitute for being on the ground, talking to prisoners, following leads when we talk to prisoners and to officers, and watching the regime in action, but I think developing the way data is used is enormously important.’

Charlie is a former headteacher, and he finished by speaking about his interest in prison education and whether it is effectively meeting the needs of learners. He said he looks forward to working with OFSTED on this.

Watch the keynote speech below, followed by some questions from members to the Chief Inspector.