Poor Management of Prisoners’ Property is Wasting Public Money Says Ombudsman

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Prisons need to manage prisoners’ property better to avoid claims for compensation and the cost of investigating complaints, said Nigel Newcomen, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO). He added that if prisons paid greater attention to their responsibility for prisoners’ property, this would avoid frustration for prisoners and the wasting of staff time on investigating complaints and arguing about compensation. Today he published a report on the lessons that can be learned about complaints received from prisoners about property

While the PPO investigates some very serious complaints, including assaults and racism – as well as all deaths in custody – the most common subject of complaint is lost or damaged property. These complaints also have the highest uphold rates where the PPO finds in favour of the prisoner. Over the past ten years, property complaints made up between 14% and 18% of all eligible complaints received. This proportion increased to 21% in 2012-13. The report, Learning from PPO Investigations: Property complaints, reviews property complaints received by the PPO in the first six months of 2012-13. 

The report highlights steps that prisons can take to improve:

  • ensure paperwork is completed correctly to record prisoners’ property so it can be reviewed if disputes arise;
  • recognise that possessions even if low value can have great importance to prisoners and should be managed according to Prison Service instructions;
  • follow Prison Service instructions about which religious items prisoners are allowed in their cells;
  • be proportionate when destroying items;
  • use photography more widely to better record which items prisoners hold and to reduce compensation claims.
  • respond effectively to prisoners’ complaints about lost or damaged property; and
  • accept responsibility when processes have not been followed, and when a prisoner is transferred, the sending prison should ensure that property arrives intact and undamaged at the receiving prison.

Nigel Newcomen said:

“Most property complaints concern small value items, but these can still mean a lot to prisoners with little. Unfortunately, too many of the issues involved could and should have been dealt with more quickly and efficiently by the prisons concerned. Instead, despite perfectly sound national policies and instructions, prisons too often refuse to accept their responsibilities when property has been lost or damaged. This leaves prisoners in limbo, creates unnecessary frustration and tension and leads to complaints, too many of which require independent adjudication. Using up scarce staff resources in this way, both in prison and then in my office, is not a good use of public money.”

A copy of the report can be found on the PPO website. Visit www.ppo.gov.uk.

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