When an offender is sent to prison, they will undoubtedly want to want to take some personal items with them. These could be photographs of loved ones, underwear, books, and so on. These items should be safe and secure within the prison, but sometimes, prisoners do lose personal belongings from time to time. Sometimes, personal property can be lost or damaged in transit between prisons.
How to make a claim for lost or damaged property?
If a prisoner has lost a personal item, or it has been damaged or destroyed for some reason, this needs to be logged if they want to make a claim for financial compensation.
An initial application for compensation should then be sent to the Prison Governor setting out all the relevant details of how the property came to be lost (or damaged or destroyed), and a detailed list (if more than one item) of the property. This means that if a lost item(s) has simply been misplaced or confused with another item within the prison walls, it may more easily be traced.
The application should include where and when the item was purchased, the value of the item, and where possible, if you still have the receipt (this will be useful supporting evidence).
If your claim is successful, compensation will be paid by the prison into the prisoner’s personal account held in their name. Any compensation payable will be based on the value of the property at the time the property was lost, and not on the replacement value. So if the lost item was such that the value may increase, such increase in value would not be compensated for.
How do you appeal a decision by the Prison Governor not to allow compensation?
If, following the initial application, the Prison Governor refuses compensation for a lost item, an appeal can be made through the prison complaints system. The complaints system is simple and enables prisoners to make a complaint without fear of penalty.
There are three stages to the complaints system, and the full process should take no longer than 6 weeks. The Complainant will then be informed of the outcome.
Can a complaint be made to the Prison and Probation Ombudsman?
If both the initial application to the Prison Governor, and a subsequent formal complaint through the prison complaints procedure, were unsuccessful, the Complainant can then choose to make a further application for compensation to the Prison and Probation Service Ombudsman. This application will be made in confidence to the Ombudsman, who will review each case on its individual merits.
If the Ombudsman makes a recommendation to the Prison Governor in favour of the Complainant, the prison is under no obligation to follow or act upon a recommendation. However, in practice it is common for a prison to carefully consider and act upon the majority of recommendations received by the Ombudsman, because of the potential risk of legal action if they don’t.
Is legal action possible?
In the majority of cases, a lost property claim will be settled before the issue of legal proceedings arises. However, situations do occasionally arise where taking formal legal action becomes the last resort. Proceedings can be taken in the County Court.
In most cases the value of the claim will fall below the level for which legal aid may be granted to fund the case. If the Complainant is not eligible for legal aid, they will have to fund it personally.
How are proceedings started?
The Complainant will need to get a claim form from the County Court along with an exemption form and leaflet explaining how to fill in the forms. There are important points to note when filling in the form:
- The defendant in the case will be the Secretary of State for Justice (not the Prison or the Prison Governor)
- The address of the prison service for the purpose of a claim against the prison will be that of the Treasury solicitor
- The claim will be for negligence
- The Complainant may need to seek legal advice if they need to attend a court hearing
It is important to understand that legal action should be a last resort and should not be considered lightly.