HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP)

Why read this account

At the intersection of research and data management we often encounter a unique challenge – preparing administrative data originally collected for specific purposes, such as inspection reports, for broader research use. The team that prepared the HMIP Prisoner Survey discusses how these challenges have been addressed to allow the sharing of over 100,000 prisoner surveys collected over two decades by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons for England and Wales (HMIP).

About the data and the research

The HMIP Prisoner Survey, with its rich data, provided fertile ground for an extensive secondary analysis project. Making these data available for further research was a collaborative initiative between Royal Holloway University of London (RHUL) and HM Inspectorate of Prisons.

The project, titled “Secondary analysis of data collected over a 20-year period by HM Inspectorate of Prisons”, was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant number ES/V012215/1) and ran from December 2021 to May 2023. The primary aim was to analyse data from over 100,000 HMIP prisoner surveys conducted over the last twenty years to understand how prisoners’ experiences of their treatment and conditions vary based on different factors and how these relate to changes in prison policy and performance. The goal was ultimately to make practical recommendations to improve the prison system.

Considering the potential of these data, the project team at RHUL prepared and structured the dataset for accessibility and future sharing to other researchers. This initiative aimed not only to enable deeper exploration of the collected insights but also to foster broader academic engagement to continue to address these critical issues. Through this collaborative effort with HMIP and with the support of the Economic and Social Research Council, the dataset now serves as a valuable resource for furthering prison-related research and contributing to the ongoing discourse on prison reform.

Archiving challenges

One of the initial hurdles faced by the team was that the HMIP data had been primarily collected for the purpose of inspection reports, not for research. This meant that the data had a distinct structure and focus. To bridge this gap, they carefully analysed the data’s original intent and adapted it to meet the diverse needs of external researchers and practitioners.

The HMIP data contained sensitive information related to prisoners and prisons. While the survey data was anonymous, the team prioritised safeguarding individual privacy and preventing re-identification through the combination of specific characteristics. This involved removing and transforming potentially identifiable information while retaining the data’s value for researchers.

Dealing with sensitive data requires stringent adherence to ethical guidelines and legal standards. The team obtained the necessary permissions and ensured that data sharing aligned with relevant laws and regulations. Recognising the need for accessibility to a wide range of researchers, including those with varying technical skills, they also prioritised developing a user-friendly format and clear documentation.

The team’s work in archiving the HM Inspectorate of Prisons data with the UK Data Service is a testament to the collaborative spirit of data management. Through close collaboration between the RHUL team, HMIP and the UK Data Service, they successfully navigated the unique challenges posed by data initially collected for inspection reports and made this valuable resource available to the research community.

The team hope their experience will inspire others looking to archive their data for research purposes. They would encourage anyone facing similar challenges in archiving their data to reach out to the UK Data Service and explore how their expertise can help navigate the complexities of data management and sharing.

At-a-glance: lessons learned

The journey to transform the HMIP Prisoner Survey data into a valuable research asset has yielded significant lessons. It underscores the importance of adapting administrative data originally collected for specific purposes, like inspection reports, to meet the diverse needs of research. This process involved not only a careful analysis and restructuring of the data but also stringent adherence to ethical and legal standards, especially when dealing with sensitive information. The project’s success was further bolstered by a strong collaborative effort between various institutions, emphasising the need for effective partnerships in data management.

Through this initiative, the team has set a precedent in data transformation, demonstrating how detailed attention to privacy, accessibility and utility can turn a focused dataset into a broad and impactful resource for academic and policy-related discourse.

This experience serves as an invaluable guide for others navigating similar challenges in data archiving and sharing, showcasing the potential of well-managed data to significantly contribute to research and societal understanding.

Discover the data

HM Inspectorate of Prisons. (2023). HMIP Prisoner Survey: Adults in England and Wales, 2000-2023: Special Licence Access. [data collection]. 2nd Edition. UK Data Service. SN: 9068, DOI:

HM Inspectorate of Prisons. (2023). HMIP Prisoner Survey: Adults in England and Wales, 2000-2023. [data collection]. UK Data Service. SN: 9161, DOI: