Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons, will be stepping down from the post after refusing a request from the justice secretary to reapply for the job. Mr Hardwick has held the job since 2010, which is an independent position tasked with advising the Ministry of Justice on the state of UK prisons. His regular reports have been uncompromisingly damning, warning of “rapid deterioration” and “widening cracks”, leading many commentators to suspect he has been pushed out due to the embarrassment he caused a government that denies there are any problems with the prison system.

Mr Hardwick has put particular focus on the problems caused by prison staff shortages, population pressures and prison policy resulting in the 69% rise in self-inflicted deaths. His position was perhaps at odds with others in the Ministry of Justice, as he outlined it in an interview “you need to make rehabilitation the central point of prisons. It’s good for the prisoners, it’s good for the economy and good for the communities in which they are going back.” Another of his frequent criticisms was prison overcrowding and the lack of measures to handle it.

Justice minister Chris Grayling has denied that there is a crisis for British prisons, dismissing Mr Hardwick’s concerns and warnings on the BBC Today programme on Radio 4 last summer. The chief inspector of prisons role works on a five-year contract, which can then be renewed for the person holding the role. In this case, the role will be advertised and Mr Hardwick was invited to apply again. He refused, explaining “Can’t be independent of people you are asking for a job” on Twitter.

Mr Hardwick’s last annual report leaves a dire message for his successor. Self-inflicted deaths reached 88 in 2013-14, the highest in 10 years and a legal high trade more profitable than illegal drugs is thriving, causing many instances of debt amongst prisoners along with bullying and violence.

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