Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Inspector Calls

There was a time, a brief span of years, when Governors paid significant attention to HM Inspectorate of Prisons. By my reckoning, that time is passed.

I believe that the Prison Service now pays far more attention to their internal targets and performance indicators. If these are good, career prospects remain safe. Unless the Inspectors issue a really shocking Report, though, then from our perspective their views carry little weight.

Which is a great pity. The obsession with performance indicators is that they become a snake devouring its own tail - the focus becomes how a task is done, rather than its effects and outputs (and shoot me if I ever use the word 'output' again).

The implication of this is that the Prison Service can view a prison as being perfectly functional, while the experience of prisoners is terrible. The 'virtual prison', the ideal viewed from the Governor's office, may be a joy to behold whilst disgruntled prisoners mutter their discontent.

It is, I hope, the job of the Inspectorate to explore that gap in perceptions, to navigate the topology of both staff and prisoners views in the hope of uncovering a 'true' picture of the lived experience.

The Inspectorate does employ a number of prison Governors seconded from the Service. These people doubtless bring a particular set of experiences to the role. It wouldn't go amiss, though, if they considered employing some (ex) prisoners. After all, the answers you receive are profoundly dependent on knowing what questions to ask.


  1. I listened to a very interesting radio program recently, on radio 4, I think on the anneversary of the closure of the maze prison in NI.

    There was a Catholic ex prisoner, a protestant ex prisoner and an ex prison officer, amongst others. Very interesting and differing perspectives.

  2. It's not just prison that's gone this way, it's everything out here. I've been working around the nursing home industry since my parents opened one 25 years ago and the changes are staggering. It's all about targets, buzz words, and crap initiatives. It've just spent whole hours of my life that I can't get back trying to attain us a 'dignity daisy'. Give me strength.