Ombudsman Sue McAllister publishes 2020/21 Annual Report

Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Sue McAllister CB:

“We have become a more inclusive organisation, still proudly independent but more confident that we can work collaboratively with others to improve outcomes in the services in our remit.”

Prisons and Probation Ombudsman 2020/21 Annual Report. For decorative purposes only.

Click here to download the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman 2020/21 Annual Report

Click here to read the Press Release

We have spent the whole of the year covered by this report working remotely due to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our staff have been mainly working from home and we have used email, video and telephone calls to share information, request documents and carry out the interviews that are integral to our work.

In the year covered by this report, we received 4,010 complaints, 14% fewer than the 4,686 we received in the previous year. We say more about the possible reasons for this fall in numbers in the complaints section of this annual report. We started 425 fatal incident investigations, an increase of 37% on the 311 we started in the previous year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the number into deaths from natural causes showed the biggest increase, rising from 185 in the previous year to 298, which included 132 attributed to COVID-19.

I am very grateful to all of my colleagues for the way they have responded to the considerable challenges they have faced in the year covered by this report and I am confident we will show the same commitment to robust, impartial and independent scrutiny in the future.

Key findings:

  • For many fatal incident investigations, the opportunity to see where a death has occurred and to have early contact with staff and prisoners is invaluable, as are face-to-face interviews. Without this direct access due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, investigations had to be conducted remotely. Access in prisons to the technology needed to respond to our requirements has been patchy. Some were able and willing to offer video calls, scan documents and forward information digitally, while others struggled to meet our requests. This sometimes meant we had to rely on telephone and video interviews and paper documents sent by post and, in some cases, we were unable to access crucial information, for example to view footage from CCTV or body worn video cameras.
  • There are still too many examples of careless or policy-non-compliant complaint responses in prisons. Furthermore, some of the complaints we receive relate to incredibly straightforward situations, which could and should have been resolved with minimal effort by prison staff. These are frustrating for us to investigate, highlighting the waste of resource, and therefore public money, being spent resolving basic issues.
  • Despite the pandemic, property complaints remain the largest single category of complaints received in 2020/21. We had expected that with far fewer transfers between prisons and less opportunity for prisoners to move around and mix with others within establishments, we would see proportionally fewer complaints about property.