Your complaints – from adjudications to Xboxes

This article previously featured on Inside Time in November: Your complaints – from adjudications to Xboxes – insidetime & insideinformation

If you missed my previous article for Inside Time in August, I am Kimberley Bingham, Acting Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. The PPO investigates complaints made by prisoners, young people in detention, offenders under probation supervision and individuals detained under immigration powers (detained individuals). We also investigate the deaths of prisoners, young people in detention, approved premises’ residents, detained individuals and recently released prisoners. We carry out these independent investigations to make custody and community supervision safer and fairer.

In October, we published our 2021-22 Annual Report. The report is a record of our work for the year, and it includes summaries of some of the complaints and deaths we have investigated. The report sets out important facts and figures about the cases we investigate, and it provides a summary of the feedback we get from our key stakeholders, including people in prison.

It was the final Annual Report from Sue McAllister, our former Ombudsman, before she stepped down in June 2022. In her foreword, Sue reflects on the work the PPO achieved while she was in post, which includes discussing the value of the informal, confidential conversations we had with some of you during our prison visits.

Some of the headlines included in this year’s report are:

We received 4,442 complaints in 2021-22. Unfortunately, many complaints which are sent to us are ineligible, which means we cannot investigate them. This might be because the complainant had not followed the correct complaint procedure or had waited longer than three months before sending us their complaint. Look out for our updated posters and leaflets which should be available in your establishment for more information on how to complain to us. 

Of the complaint investigations we completed, the highest number of complaints we received from you were about property (27%), then staff behaviour (10%) and then adjudications (7%).

As you may know, we have forged closer working relationships with National Prison Radio, Inside Time and Women in Prison. We use the adverts and articles to raise awareness of the PPO, highlight the complaints process, and to set out how we conduct our investigations. We hope these will help you complain to us and give you greater confidence in our work. We are working closely with HM Prison and Probation Service to drive up the quality of their complaint responses so that you get better responses from prison staff and that they understand the importance of fairness. 

We received a smaller number of COVID-19 related complaints this year than we were expecting, and they were mostly about prison regimes, which were, of course, enormously affected by lockdowns and restrictions. We also received small numbers of COVID-19 related complaints about staff behaviour, work and pay, and progression and categorisation. 

In our report, we say that a key aspect of a PPO investigation is considering whether the prison properly applied the relevant policies when making the decision or taking the action that led to your complaint. We found that local policies can sometimes deviate from national policies in ways that are unhelpful, especially to those who move between prisons. One example in the report concerned the provision of Microsoft Xbox consoles in certain prisons. We received a number of complaints from prisoners who have been able to buy Xbox 360s in one prison, which is contrary to national policy, and have had the console or hard drive confiscated when transferred to another prison, which is in line with national policy. 

We have also been concerned by an increase in cases relating to prisoners obtaining books. We share a case study in the report which shows an example where a prison tried to tackle the increase of drugs entering the prison by refusing to accept a parcel of books. This was not in line with national policy which sets out that books are allowed to be sent to prisoners if the contents of them do not breach certain standards set out in the policy.

Although we saw a reduction in the number of use of force complaints we received, it is very disappointing that we have once again made numerous recommendations about the need to switch on body-worn video cameras or to retain video footage. We have used the findings from our investigations to contribute to HMPPS’s review of the policy about body-worn video camera footage. 

We take enormous pride in the work we do to investigate and resolve complaints. We know the investigations have the potential to make a real difference and we continue to try and understand why so few women and young people complain to us. We want to identify the barriers posed to these groups and empower and support them to use our services. 

From November, a copy of our Annual Report will be available in every prison library. Please contact us if there isn’t a copy available in your prison. As always, we welcome your thoughts on how informative the report is and whether you find it useful. We know that providing printed copies of our Annual Report is the best way to reach people in prison. But, for families and supporters with access to the internet, the report is available on our website, so do let others know that they can read it there. 

Contact us at:

Prisons and Probation Ombudsman,

Third Floor,

10 South Colonnade,


E14 4PU

Don’t forget to look out for our new posters and leaflets, and also listen out for our Prison Radio adverts for more information on how to complain to us.