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UK: Prison & Probation Ombudsman Bulletin on Complaints Investigations

9th January 2018

In this Bulletin, the Prison & Probation Ombudsman (PPO), publishes their findings from their analysis of a sample of 208 complaints involving discrimination issues, which were submitted to the PPO from January 2012 to July 2017 and were further investigated. The Bulletin reports that “all too often discrimination complaints are not investigated promptly”. Four themes that arise from investigating complaints about discrimination were identified, and the PPO provides recommendations about how prisons can handle these complaints more effectively.

The four themes are:

Allocation of Resources: Due to a reallocation of resources, hours that staff have to allocate to responding to complaints about discrimination have been cut, and therefore they have significantly less time and fewer resources to complete investigations. This can result in investigations taking longer to complete, and complaints get mislaid, overlooked or forgotten. The Bulletin highlights the importance of an efficient and effective complaints system for a decent prison system that respects human rights. The recommendation given by the PPO is that prisons should allocate appropriate resources to investigating concerns about discrimination to ensure that investigations are completed promptly and effectively.

Appropriate Training: The Bulletin reports that staff tasked with investigating and responding to discrimination-related complaints in prison have not received the appropriate support and training. The Bulletin highlights that the lack of training can lead to a misunderstanding about the issues, a lack of confidence in dealing with the issues, and hence, resulting in investigations into complaints about discrimination that are of poor quality. The PPO recommends that prisons should ensure that staff dealing with discrimination-related complaints receive appropriate training and support to fulfil their duties.

Engaging with Equality Issues: The Bulletin highlights that complaint handlers need to engage with discrimination issues in a way that underscores the commitment to fairness and ensuring equality, directly addressing bullying, harassment, or unfair treatment based on protected characteristics. A lack of engagement with these issues can lead to the poor-handling of the situation, and failure to address the issues. The recommendation given by the PPO is for staff to log any discrimination complaints, and complaint handlers to directly address any identified discrimination issues.

Seeing the Big Picture: It is noted that in many of the cases not enough data is gathered on the discriminatory issues in order to assess whether the complaint is justified or not. This then requires the complaint handler to seek more information and look at wider patterns or trends. The recommendation made is that prisons should establish regular monitoring and data collection of personal characteristics of prisoners and key service areas including, but not limited to, the allocation of jobs.

See Prison & Probation Ombudsman Bulletin on Complaints Investigations here, and see the PPO Press Release here.

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