You can listen to Nick Hardwick speak at our upcoming conference
The outgoing chief inspector of prisons has accused the former justice secretary Chris Grayling of attempting to remove criticisms of government policies from an independent report before its publication.
Nick Hardwick said that Grayling did not want him to publish documents suggesting changes introduced by his department had contributed to poor outcomes in prisons.
The claims are the strongest yet that Grayling attempted to interfere with the independence of the prison inspectorate, which has often been highly critical of conditions inside Britain’s prisons. Grayling was the secretary of state for justice for three years until the 2015 general election.
In an interview with the Guardian, Hardwick said: “He [Grayling] was telling me the points he hoped I would make that were positive, and I didn’t think it was his place to say that.”
“His general concern was that I had said the lack of staff, overcrowding and some of the policy changes that he had introduced had contributed to poor outcomes in prisons. I was very clear about that, and he disagreed very strongly with that conclusion.”
Hardwick told the House of Commons justice select committee last week that senior MoJ officials told him they needed to sign off all specialist personnel hired to take part in prison inspections. The situation became so serious that Hardwick wrote to senior civil servants warning that he would suspend all prison inspections unless the restrictions were lifted.
The ministry has now agreed to allow the inspectorate financial independence until April, but has made no guarantees that Hardwick’s successor, the former police chief Peter Clarke, will have the same freedoms.
In a wide-ranging interview, Hardwick also said that asylum seekers should no longer be locked away in detention centres. “These people haven’t been convicted of anything and they’re detained on the say-so of a relatively junior civil servant. If you lock someone up in a detention centre you are punishing them. Even if you’re trying not to run it like a prison. Even if you have the best staff in the world, it’s still a prison.
“It should be very exceptional that you lock someone up without going before a court, and at the moment it’s simply not exceptional enough,” he said.
Hardwick said he has come to dislike visiting prisons and will be glad to step down from the job in April. “If you ask me how my view has changed, and this may be another reason why I’m not sad to leave the job, I’m surprised by how much I don’t like being in prison.
Although I have keys and can get out at any time – and I regard myself as pretty resilient – it’s the noise, the echo, the clanging, the claustrophobia, the sense that even if you’ve got keys you’re shut in, and the unhappiness.”
“I didn’t understand the degree to which once you lock someone up, even in the best prisons for a short period of time, that is a very severe punishment indeed.”
He dismissed claims from some critics that prison is a soft punishment. “It’s as bad as you could possibly imagine, and possibly more so. And don’t think a little flatscreen telly in the corner is going to alleviate it, because it doesn’t,” he said.