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Data from 100,000 prisoner surveys made available to researchers

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Hearing prisoner voices

On 25 May HMI Prisons and Royal Holloway University of London will launch the publication of the data from almost 100,000 prisoner surveys conducted by HMI Prisons (HMIP) over the last twenty years in every prison in England and Wales. Professor Nick Hardwick, a former Chief Inspector of Prisons and now Professor of Criminal Justice at Royal Holloway writes:

"If you want to know what is happening in prisons, ask the prisoners. We believe this dataset has the potential to provide transformative insights into prisoners' experience of every aspect of their treatment and conditions over two decades. The scale and quality of the data is unique, and we applaud Charlie Taylor, the current Chief Inspector, and his team for working with us to make the data available. The survey data will be placed on the UK Data Service platform and will be available to researchers and policy makers throughout the Europe (and potentially the rest of the world if there is the demand) who complete a simple application process."

Nick Hardwick Professor of Criminal- Justice at Royal Holloway

Almost all prison inspection begins with a prisoner survey of a representative sample of prisoners, chosen and administered by HMIP’s own team of researchers. The current version has 112 multiple-choice questions and response rates are typically between 75% and 85%. Researchers may be used to using HMIP’s own survey analyses published in each inspection – now they will have access to about 10 million pieces of analysable survey data to use themselves.


Preparing the data has been an eighteen-month project funded by the ESRC (and many more years in the planning).  The project was preceded by a feasibility study that examined the practical and ethical challenges in publishing the data[1].  A key finding was that prisoners themselves were keen the survey data be made available. As one prisoner put it: ” “the reason we filled it [the survey] out is because we would like things to change, so personally I’m happy with that.” (Quinn et al., 2020b).  

Nick Hardwick said, 

“We know how difficult it is for researchers to get into prisons and hear from prisoners themselves – we hope researchers and others will make use of this data to ensure that prisoners’ own accounts of their experiences and insights into how the system can be improved can be a decisive influence on policy development.”


[1] Quinn, A., Denney, D., Hardwick, N., Jalil, R. and Meek, R. (2020a) The feasibility and challenge of using administrative data: a case study of historical prisoner surveys, International Journal of Social Research Methodology.

Quinn, A., Shaw, C., Hardwick, N., Meek, R., Moore, C., Ranns, H. and Sahni, S. (2020,) Prisoner interpretations and expectations for the governance of survey data. Criminal Justice Ethics 39: 3, 163-182.

Quinn, A. Hardwick, N. and Meek, R. (2021) With age comes respect? And for whom exactly? A quantitative examination of prisoner experiences of respect elicited through HM Inspectorate of Prisons survey responses.
The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice 60: 2, pages 251-272

Launch event

The launch event will take place from 14.00 to 17.00 on 25 May at Senate House and online. There will be a key-note speech by the Chief Inspector, Charlie Taylor, and a detailed explanation of what the database contains and how to access it.  For those attending in person there will be a chance to explore how the data can used in practice and an opportunity to understand the technical and procedural processes for using the data.

Please let us know if you would like to attend on-line or in person by replying to the invitation below.  Please feel free to alert others who might be interested to the event.




Thanks to Couleur for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Pixabay.

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