Prisoners in England and Wales owe £2.25million to the taxpayer for damage caused to prisons and prison property.
Since a change to the Prison Rules that came into effect in November 2013, with Prison Service Instruction 31/2013, prisons in England and Wales have been able to impose a requirement that a prisoner pay compensation via a Damage Obligation Order (DOO) for the destruction or damage they cause to prisons and prison property – and it allows prison Governors to take monies directly from a prisoner’s money account held at the prison to satisfy the compensation debt.
The compensation ordered to be paid has to be for the full value of the damage caused, up to a maximum of £2,000, and the debts last for a maximum of two years or until a prisoner’s sentence expires; whichever is the sooner and money cannot be collected past this point.
In recent times there have been reports of serious disturbances in a number of prisons across England and Wales.
In October 2016, a national response unit (Tornado riots teams) were brought into control prisoners in a wing at HMP Lewes, East Sussex.
In November 2016, there were reports of a riot involving 230 prisoners at HMP Bedford, and disturbances involving 40 prisoners at HMP Moorland in Yorkshire.
In December 2016, 240 prisoners had to be moved after a twelve hour riot at HMP Birmingham, and inmates reportedly took over part of Swaleside Prison on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.
Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales criticised the compensation orders as ‘unworkable’ when they were introduced by the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, saying that as the vast majority of prisoners have little or no money to pay any such compensation order with, the reality was that debts would simply continue to mount – and now evidence obtained from the Ministry of Justice shows that is exactly what has happened.
In March 2017 Mr Leech submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the MOJ asking for details of how much money remains unpaid by prisoners subject to a DOO.
Despite the law requiring a response to the FOIA request within 28 days, it took 15 months of persistent questions before the MOJ finally released the information showing that, as of February 2017 when the FOIA Request was submitted, prisoners owed £2,250,000 in unpaid compensation for damage to prison property.
Mr Leech said: “Like so much of what Chris Grayling introduced during his time as Justice Secretary its barmy, his ridiculous banning of books to prisoners, his unnecessary restrictions on temporary licence release and home detention curfew – all of which have since been reversed – this is yet another policy failure that shows this was always more about political posturing than it was about actual policy delivery.
“The solution is not to impose uncollectible compensation orders on prisoners who can’t pay in a month of Sunday’s, but to make our prisons safe, secure, decent and humane so riots do not happen and the taxpayer is not left with a repair bill that realistically they can never collect.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “It is right that prisoners should reimburse taxpayers for damage caused to prison property wherever possible.
“The National Offender Management Service (NOMS), now known as Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), introduced the system of recovering monies from prisoners from 1 November 2013 through “damage obligation orders”.
“Following a finding of guilt on adjudication, a requirement to pay can be made for up to 100% of the damage caused, including labour costs. However the maximum must not exceed £2,000 and must never exceed the value of the damage caused.”