Admission and evaluation
All inmates are admitted to prison with a valid commitment order
Each person admitted to prison must be identified. The staff verifies the validity of the order or any other document authorising their detention.1
Ministry of Justice, PSI publication 06/2015 on the early days in custody, p. 4. ↩
Prisoners can inform their families about their imprisonment
Prisoners can call their family or a legal adviser during imprisonment or after the first night in detention.1
The Chief Inspector of Prisons stated, in their annual report of 2017-2018, that less than half of the men they met during their visits were offered a free call to their family.2
Prison Reform Trust, “Information sheet for women in prison for the first time”, October 2017, p. 2. ↩
There is a reception area for arriving prisoners
in every facility
A copy of the prison regulations is made available to the prisoners
An Introduction to Custody (ITC) proposes a standardised process for the integration of newcomers. The goal of the ITC is to give prisoners the necessary information under the PSI publication of 06/2015. The ITC must be carried out in the five days following arrival. It includes a specific presentation for each facility.1
Ministry of Justice, PSI publication 06/2015 on the early days in custody, p. 13. ↩
On placement into a cell, staff must take into account “any risk of mistreatment by or on behalf of the newcomer to other prisoners, and any risk of suicide or self-harm”. All prisoners held in closed prisons will undergo a Cell Sharing Risk Assessment (CSRA). This evaluation is obligatory, wether in a shared space or not. The CSRA is also a part of the admission process. It must assess the risk that a prisoner might “kill his fellow prisoner or commit acts of serious violence against him”.1
Ministry of Justice, PSI publication 20/2015 on the Cell Sharing Risk Assessment process. ↩
Annual figures from the Justice Ministry showed that the number of self-harm events in 2020 is one of the highest ever recorded. Compared to 2019, there was a difference between men (- 13 %) and women (+ 13 %). This increase has led the House of Commons Justice Committee to launch an inquiry into the mental health situation in prison and the effects of long periods of isolation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The staff in charge of newcomers receive two types of training:
- Assessment, Care in Custody & Teamwork (ACCT): procedure for identifying and monitoring an at-risk prisoner (suicide risk…). It concerns all officers in contact with prisoners. The Howard League reported, in a study published in 2017, that several officers “believe the ACCT training inadequate”. It voices concerns about its capacity to evaluate the vulnerability of a prisoner.1
- Cell Sharing Risk Assessment (CSRA): see above. All officers and teams involved in the entry process are required to follow it.2
Ministry of Justice, PSI publication 20/2015 on the Cell Sharing Risk Assessment process, p. 7. ↩
A sentence execution project, including training, is established for every prisoner with a sentence of more than one year. This training is aimed at “improving behaviour and preventing reoffending”.1 A probation officer accompanies the prisoner with their project.2
Access to rights
Prisoners can be assisted by a lawyer throughout their incarceration
In 2013, the Secretary of State for Justice stopped the provision of legal aid. The Howard League and the Prisoner’s Advice Service submitted an appeal to the Court of Appeal. In February 2018, the Court of Appeal decided to reintroduce legal aid in three cases:
Prisoners have access to a legal aid centre
in some instances
The 2013 order from the Secretary of State for Justice also eliminated almost every legal access point available to prisoners. The government agreed, before an appeal hearing by Howard League and the Prisoner’s Advice Hearing, to make legal access points available:
- in mother-baby units
- in reintegration facilities
- for people released on parole (licence)
- for people in solitary confinement.1
- about ongoing or upcoming procedures
- about legal matters, such as the sale of goods or the drawing up of wills
- about an upcoming disciplinary proceeding.
Legal advisors may make use of any sound recording device. This device must not contain a built-in camera or telephone. Every advisor agrees in writing that the recording must be kept securely. They agree that the recording must only be used in line with the procedures or cases already mentioned. Letters and documents that are exchanged between the prisoner and their advisor are subjected to the same monitoring procedures as mail.[^PSI 16/2011]
Inside Time, the national newspaper for prisoners, published a guide of more than 1,000 pages, which for a long time were available in prison libraries. Now, it is only available online. Friends and family of prisoners are authorised to forward desired extracts to them or to send them to the dedicated service. Email a Prisoner.
[^PSI 16/2011]: Ministry of Justice, PSI publication 16/2011 on visits and services to visitors
Deaths in custody are logged in a register
Number of deaths in custody
Variation in the number of deaths in custody
an increase of 10 %
compared to the previous year
A record number of deaths was reported between January and March 2021. On average, 12 prisoners died each week, 40% more than in the previous quarter of the year. Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, said: “Prisons have been largely forgotten in this pandemic, but today’s figures reveal the devastating impact of COVID-19 on people living and working behind bars.”
Number of deaths attributed to suicide
A 48 year-old man was found hanged on 2 May at Durham prison. He had a history of serious mental health issues and had recently self-harmed. This was the sixth suicide in this prison since January 2019. Prison staff was criticised for failing to realise the risk of suicide. The chief inspector of prisons had expressed his concern in August 2019.
Variation in the number of suicides
an increase of 31 %
compared to the previous year
Death rate in custody (per 10,000 prisoners)
A study by the University College London (UCL) showed that the death rate during the COVID-19 pandemic was much higher among prisoners than in the general population. The Justice Secretary soundly rejected these findings. Addressing a parliamentary group, he said: “I totally disagree, I’m afraid, with the UCL analysis about prisons. I think it’s wrong, I think it’s based upon misconceptions, I reject it. The evidence, actually, over the last year, doesn’t bear it out.”
Suicide rate in custody (per 10,000 prisoners)
The prison service must notify a judicial authority for
of every death
Ministry of Justice, PSI publication 64/2011 on means of protection in detention, p. 58. ↩
Friends and family are informed of the death. Every facility assigns an officer to communicate with the family (Family Liaison Officer, FLO). This officer is selected based on their “personal qualities” (good interpersonal skills, empathy, discretion…). Where possible, the FLO, accompanied by another member of staff, makes a visit to the closest relative or to the nominated person. They inform them of the death. This visit must take place without delay. For practical reasons, an officer from a different facility may be sent to take action. A follow-up visit must be scheduled as early as possible.1
Ministry of Justice, PSI publication 64/2011 on means of protection in detention, p. 55-67. ↩
The body must be treated with dignity and returned to their family. The heads of public facilities must offer a “reasonable” contribution to the funeral costs. If the deceased person is from overseas, a “reasonable” contribution to the repatriation costs of the body or the ashes must be offered.1
Ministry of Justice, PSI publication 64/2011 on means of protection in detention, p. 65 ↩
Suicide prevention policies are implemented
Suicide prevention is obligatory in all facilities. This takes the form of a procedure named Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork (ACCT).1 The Howard League, in its 2016 report on the prevention of suicide in prison, highlights that “these procedures depend on good relationships between staff and prisoners, and on the efficiency of communication between members of staff”. The report also emphasises that: “the prison administration must not rely on the ACCT to flag and support every prisoner presenting a risk of suicide. Of the 89 prisoners who took their own lives in 2015, less than half (35) were subject to ACCT monitoring at the time of death”.2
Ministry of Justice, PSI publication 64/2011 on protection measures in detention, p. 26. ↩
The number of self-harm incidents rose by 47 % among female prisoners between April and June. The increase was 20 % for young offenders over the same period. This increase was 8 % among men. This phenomenon coincides with an increasingly severe detention system used to reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission. Some observers were worried about the consequences of such measures and the “devastating impacts” on the mental health of prisoners. The government announced that it was making more of an effort. It said that almost 25,000 professionals were being trained in suicide and self-harm prevention.
In its most recent visit report, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture has described a prison system “in a deep crisis”, pointing to violent, dangerous and overpopulated prisons. The Committee highlights acts of violence perpetrated by staff against prisoners. These include “preventative attacks”, which consist of beating inmates who migh pose a threat in the future. This practice was referred to in an official document from Liverpool prison in 2015, which stated that “there is no rule which specifies whether a person should expect to be attacked before being able to defend themselves”.
Relations between guards and prisoners remain tense at Leyhill Prison (Gloucestershire). Prisoners belonging to ethnic and/or racial minorities say they are “bullied or victimised” by staff. One report indicated that releases from the establishment were poorly managed. Half of the parole hearings have been deferred, and one man was still in prison a year after his release had been announced.
The prohibition of torture is enshrined in the Constitution and the legislation
only by law
The prohibition of torture is written in:
- the Criminal Justice Act of 1988 (section 134)
- the Health and Social Care Act of 2018
- the Human Rights Act of 1998
Section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act of 1988 defines torture as: “A public official or person acting in an official capacity, whatever his nationality, commits the offence of torture if in the United Kingdom or elsewhere he intentionally inflicts severe pain or suffering on another”.
The United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) was
ratified in 1988
(signed in 1985)
The rules in force (PSI publication 32/2011 on ensuring equality) ensure protection against discrimination, harassment, sexual or other, and victimisation. The legislation concerns staff, prisoners, and any person acting in prison.
More than 1,600 men were compensated for physical abuse they endured at Medomsley prison (Durham County), between 1960 and 1980, with a total of seven million sterling pounds. Five prison officers were convicted for their part in the abuse in 2019.
Medowsley prison housed teenagers who had committed minor crimes until 1988, the year it closed. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said “our deepest sympathies remain with those who suffered abuse at Medowsley”.
All allegations and suspicions of ill-treatment inflicted on prisoners are logged
There are no records of allegations or suspicions of abuse. In the most serious cases, the prison administration must notify the local Police Intelligence leader1(see Incidents section). The United Kingdom’s National Preventive Mechanism (MNP) highlighted, in its 2019 submission to the Committee against Torture, the lack of publication of detailed annual data for allegations of or proven abuse. MNP members criticise conditions, regimes or treatment in detention as being so indecent that they amount to abuse.
Component of the British police responsible, among other things, for compiling information on crime. ↩
No policy specific to the prevention of toture and abuse has been put in place. Prison staff undergo “training in control and constraint techniques” to prevent inappropriate use of force.1
There is no specific procedure provided in the case of an allegation or suspicion of abuse. Investigators are required to keep a written record of the evidence. For complex investigations, an individual is selected to be responsible for their classification. Special attention is paid to the conservation of evidence that may be subject to forensic examination.2
Medical staff do not receive training in identifying signs of torture.
Number of recorded violent acts between prisoners
Around 13% of the violent episodes are serious assaults.1
Serious assaults are, according to the Ministry of Justice,“a sexual assault; an assault which requires detention in outside hospital as an in-patient; requires medical treatment for concussion or internal injuries; or incurs any of the following injuries: a fracture, scald or burn, stabbing, crushing, extensive or multiple bruising, black eye, broken nose, lost or broken tooth, cuts requiring suturing, bites, temporary or permanent blindness”. ↩
The PSI publication 32/2011 on ensuring equality provides protection against discrimination, harassment, sexual or otherwise, and victimisation. It also concerns violence between prisoners.
Each prison facility keeps an updated record of violence between inmates
Prisoners are able to make a written complaint against the prison administration by filling out a form Letter boxes designed to collect these forms are available on every ward. The PSI publication 02/2012 on the prisoner complaints procedure also states that “facilities must make sure that a prisoner is able to make a formal complaint orally”.
There is no specialised body to receive complaints. The prison’s management (director or designated officer) deals with complaints about staff behaviour. The prison administration’s regional director (Deputy Director of Custody, DDC) deals with complaints which are sent in sealed envelopes.
Prisoners are able to make a complaint via the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO). The PPO is independent of the prison administration. Prisoners can also address their complaints to:
- the Queen
- the court of law (against the prison administration or a member of staff)
- the Criminal Cases Review Commission
- the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority
- the European Court of Human Rights.1
Ministry of Justice, PSI publication 02/2012 on the prisoner complaints procedure ↩
National Preventive Mechanisms and other external control bodies
The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) was
ratified in December 2003
(signed in June 2003)
An NPM has been established
in March 2009
Name of the NPM
The UK National Preventive Mechanism
In 2009, the British government assigned 18 existing bodies to form its NPM.
These bodies already held the power to carry out independent inspections of places of detention. The British government must confirm that they meet the requirements outlined by the OPCAT. Three new bodies were created in December 2013.1
The NPM has come into office
in March 2009
The NPM was appointed by
Structure of the NPM
collegiate body, 21 members
The UK NPM oversees 21 supervisory bodies. Those in charge of prisons in England and Wales are:
- Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP): this carries out regular visits to every prison in England and Wales with the aim of evaluating the treatment of prisoners and the conditions of their incarceration. They are also authorised to inspect other places of detention.
- The Care Quality Commission (CQC): this monitors, inspects and controls social and health services dedicated to adults in England. The visits that they make are conducted with the HMIP.
- The Children’s Commissioner for England: this is in charge of the promotion and protection of the rights of children. They have the power to visit, among other places, juvenile facilities.
- Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW): this monitors and inspects the health services in Wales. They visit detention centres alongside the HMIP. During their visits, they evaluate the quality of care provided to prisoners, assuring that it is equivalent to outside care.
- Lay Observers: these monitor the treatment of prisoners in England and Wales during transfers and extractions carried out by private companies. Lay Observers are independent volunteers.
- Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, Ofsted: this inspects and oversees the services dedicated to minors, and the services in charge of education and training for all ages. Ofsted controls the secure centres which hold children and secure training centres (with the HMIP and the CQC). It ensures access to education and training in prison in Young Offender Institutions.
The activities carried out by the different bodies are coordinated by the HMIP. The representatives of all NPM member institutions attend biannual meetings. They communicate with each other throughout the year about their work via the NPM.1
The NPM reports are made public
The NPM publishes a yearly report, which is presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Justice. The Inspectorate of Penal Institution will publish, in the 18 weeks following a visit, its inspection report.
Number of visits made by the NPM during the year
The chief inspector of prisons visited Wormwood Scrubs prison in 2019 and in 2021. He indicated that prison conditions were only slightly improved. He said he was concerned about the 118 prisoners who lived in cramped conditions. However, he praised the introduction of telephones in the cells to help inmates stay in contact with loved ones.
The legislation allows the NPM to carry out unannounced visits
Penal institutions, Young Offender Institutions containing young adults and specialised wards are visited at least every five years. The visits are determined on the basis of risk assessment. The majority of facilities are visited every two to three years. Certain facilities classed as high risk are visited more frequently. Young Offender Institutions (containing minors under the age of 18) are visited every year.1
The NPM can monitor all prison facilities, units and premises
A follow-up mechanism is provided for the recommendations of the NPM . Two months after the publication of the report, the prisons that are visited must produce an action plan responding to the recommendations of the Inspectorate.
The action plan, published on the HMIP website, specifies whether the facility accepts, fully or in part, or rejects the recommendations. It also outlines the actions which are intended or carried out as a consequence of the recommendations. Inspectors use a facility’s action plans, alongside other physical or numerical proof, to assess the progress of a facility and prepare for their visits. The HMIP carries out inspection visits. These visits are announced shortly before they’re carried out and must take place between eight and 12 months after the initial visit. Four or five inspectors will be involved for a duration of two and a half days.
Inspectors assess the improvements implemented based on some 15 recommendations. They give their opinions worded as follows:
- no significant progress
- insufficient progress
- reasonable progress
- satisfactory progress
The HMIP is required to carry out between 15 and 20 inspection visits each fiscal year. The Independent Reviews of Progress, IRP are published within 25 days.
In the case of worrying allegations from the HMIP, the Chief Inspector of Prisons can address an urgent communication to the Secretary of State for Justice. This letter must be written in the seven days following the end of the inspection. It outlines their preoccupations and their justification. The Secretary of State has 28 days to respond publicly.1
A regional body monitors the places of deprivation of liberty
European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT)
Its reports are made public
The reports from regular and ad hoc visits are available on the CPT’s website.
The Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) has visited the country
The SPT (United Nations) visited the United Kingdom from the 8 to the 19 September 2019.
Its report was made public
Prison facilities are subjected to other external review mechanisms. Every facility in England and Wales is monitored by an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB). Their members, drawn from civil society, are independent volunteers. They participate in at least three or four visits a month. They are selected by the Secretary of State. They can enter the institution in question without restriction, at any time. They can speak privately with prisoners of their choice. They regularly share their observations with management teams. They may also share their observations during regional meetings and in front of their National Assembly. The supervisory boards produce an annual report for the Minister.
Facilities are also under the supervision of authorised persons. Their visits do not require any special request from the prisoner and are not counted against the visits to which they are entitled. These persons are listed below:
- English or Welsh MPs
- Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
- Representatives from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, EHRC, or from any other organisation, where the goal of their visit is to highlight, specifically and exclusively, any problems associated with equality.
Meetings are confidential.[^PSI 16/2011]
[^PSI 16/2011]: Ministry of Justice, PSI publication 16/2011 on visits and visitor services.
Sentence adjustments policies
The law provides for a sentence adjustment system
The sentence can be adjusted as soon as it is pronounced (ab initio)
Sentence adjustments can be granted during the incarceration
Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection, see the Specific Populations section, Life Imprisonment category. ↩
The period of unconditional imprisonment (tariff) is the minimum length of time a prisoner sentenced to an IPP must remain incarcerated ↩
Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that during the Covid-19 pandemic, open prisons “[had] been particularly hard hit … because they [had] largely been unable to fulfill their main function - preparing prisoners for release“. He pointed out that prisoners had not been able to get paroled, and that some of them had also seen their parole delayed.
Prisoners can contest a negative decision of sentence adjustment
Specific categories of prisoners are ineligible for sentence adjustment
The law provides for a temporary release system
Release on temporary licence, ROTL is frequently used to prepare for release, especially for long sentences. Its duration is one day long and may include one night. In 2013, new provisions extended the time needed to procure the permission. Prison Reform Trust (PRT) highlights the significant decrease in their number.1
Prisoners may be granted, within a short period of time, special permission for a few hours (special purpose licences (SPL)). They may be requested in the following cases:
- Personal reasons (visit to a dying parent, emergencies regarding parental responsibilities, etc.)
- Medical reasons
- Marriage or signing of a civil union contract
- A meeding with a legal advisor2
Prison Reform Trust and Restore Support Network, Social care or systematic neglect? Older people on release from prison (Social care or systematic neglect? Older people on release from prison“, 2016, p. 7. ↩
A release on temporary license (ROTL) is only granted on British territory. The prisoner must spend at least a 24-hour period in prison per week. The prisoner may be authorised to use a vehicle from the facility if the release plays a role in their rehabilitation (cf. PSO publication 5400).
Other specific activities depend on the activity justifying the permission to leave:
- Paid or unpaid work: the prison ensures the supervision of the prisoner based on the risk assessment at the proposed job and for the prisoner himself. Their employment is monitored (attendance, progress, etc.).
- Maintenance of family ties: a release on temporary license may be granted every fourteen days. It may be granted every seven days for prisoners who have primary care of a child under the age of 16 or who have the responsibility of a person over the age of 16 who requires substantial care (old age, infirmity, or disability).1
The law provides for a sentence adjustment for medical reasons
The Secretary of State for Justice may grant a release for medical reasons. These decisions are rare. This measure is considered for people who are terminally ill, bedridden, or severely disabled. The law does not suggest any timeframe for the release of a terminally ill patient. In practice, the arrangement is only granted for people whose life expectancy does not exceed three months.1
Prison Reform Trust and Restore Support Network, “Social care or systematic neglect? Older people on release from prison”, 2016, p. 12. ↩
In exceptional circumstances, condemned people may receive a royal pardon (Royal Prerogative of Mercy, RPM). There are two types of pardon:
- the free pardon: the sentence and its consequences are cancelled
- the conditional pardon: the sentence and its consequences are commuted to a lighter sentence.
The Secretary of State for Justice can recommend a royal pardon. This possibility is usually reserved for cases which meet the following three conditions:
- No appeal is available
- New elements have appeared
- New elements show, beyond reasonable doubt, the absence of crime or the innocence of the person charged.
Public opinion calls for greater transparency in the exercise of the right to pardon. 1
BBC News, Royal prerogative of mercy: Over 350 issued in Northern Ireland, 2 May 2014. ↩