Independent inspection has a crucial role to play in driving up standards in prisons. So I was very happy to respond recently to a consultation about the kinds of things that HMIP (His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons) should inspect when it goes into prisons.

As an organisation that supports people in prison to stay in touch with their loved ones, we are delighted with some of the changes being proposed.

For example, it’s great news that the inspectorate will establish whether prisons are involving family and friends in the ‘ACCT’ process. ACCT is the teamwork-based system used in prisons to monitor and support people who are considered to be at risk of suicide or serious self-harm. HMIP now want to see evidence that prisons have processes in place to allow families to raise concerns where they are worried about a loved one’s safety and to share valuable insights on how to keep their loved ones safe. This helps to save lives, and we’d urge HMIP to ensure that prisons are doing it properly.

However, we believe that inspections need to go further in establishing whether prisons are genuinely adopting a ‘think family’ approach in everything they do.

In his landmark reviews of 2017 and 2019, Lord Farmer set out how family ties need to be the ‘golden thread’ running right through the system, supporting efforts to deliver safer prisons and reduce reoffending. We’d urge HMIP to be more consistent in applying this principle throughout its inspection processes.

More broadly, responsibility for the state of our prisons ultimately sits not with Governors but is the result of political decisions made by ministers. Budget cuts of around 25% in the last decade, and longer prison sentences, have left us with not enough officers, not enough resources for rehabilitation and too many prisons that are simply not fit for purpose.

Andy Keen-Downs 
Pact CEO