When a prisoner has a concern or complaint during his time in prison, there is no direct requirement for them to use the formal prison complaints system to report it. However, prisoners will often want to use a formal route to report such complaints to ensure this has been recorder and something is done to solve the problem. There must be no obstacle in a prisoners way if they so choose to use the formal complaints process.
How to make a complaint
Prisoners should have free access to the prison system complaints form, also known as a COMP1, on the prison wing, or sometimes kept in the residential area of the prison.
If a prisoner is unable to access this form, much like the majority of the prison forms, the prisoner may apply by letter, although the form provides a structure to help the prisoner include all the relevant information required.
Each prison wing should have a locked box where complaints forms can be posted.
The three stages to a complaint
There are three stages to dealing with a complaint, and each of these stages will be completed within the prison.
Once the complaint has been submitted on the COMP1, the prisoner can expect to receive a response from, usually, the wing office within approximately 5 days. The response will also be on a form COMP1.
If the prisoner is not satisfied with the response from the wing officer, the prisoner is to complete a COMP1A to appeal to someone at management level.
This application must be made within a week of receiving the first response. The Prisoner will need to detail their reasons why they are not happy with their first response.
A prisoner can expect to receive a response from someone at management level within 7 days of them receiving the application. This may differ slightly from prison to prison depending on the prison structure.
It is common, for a prison to receive an interim response from a person at management level when a decision is going to take longer than the recommended 7 days. This will contain the reason for a delay and the estimated conclusion date.
If a prisoner is still not happy with the response they have received, the next step would be to contact the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman within three months of receiving the Governors response.
This step will also be appropriate if the prisoner does not receive a response to stage 2 within 6 weeks.
Reserved complaints and requests
There are certain types of complaints and requests that cannot be considered internally within the prison, these include:
Complaints against the governor
Requests for artificial insemination
Early release on compassionate grounds
Issues surrounding Mother and Baby placements
Category A prisoners ( visitors, transfers, category complaints, change of name and marriage requests)
When any of the above arises, the prisoner should still complete the COMP1 form, but instead of posting the form in the appropriate box located on the wing, the prisoner should send the application to the Prison Service Headquarters or in the case of parole, send the application to the Parole board.
A reply can be expected within 6 weeks of sending the application.
A Confidential Access Complaint
A confidential access complaint is usually used when a prisoners complaint is of a very serious or sensitive nature , or about a member of staff that frequently works around the prisoner, for example on the wing of the prisoners cell.
A confidential access form is a pink form, labelled the COMP2, this should also be freely accessible to the prisoners at any time. If the prisoner does not have access to this form, and does not want to ask a member of the prison staff for one, the complaint can be written in the form of a letter marked confidential access and labelled with the recipient’s name.
This method should not be used in addition to the regular complaints procedure, and will not replace any steps within that process.
The prisoner will need to place the completed COMP2 or letter in a sealed envelope, and address the envelope to the person they want to receive and deal with the complaint. This is usually the prison governor, but if such a complaint is against that person, the envelope may be addressed to the prison manager, chairman or the Independent Monitoring board.
The envelope should then be posted in the complaints box located on the wing and will only be opened by the named addressee.
The prisoner can expect a response within 6 weeks.
The Independent Monitoring Board
If the prisoner would like to meet with someone who can help with a complaint, who is completely independent from the prison, they can request a meeting with a member of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB)
IMB members are independent and unpaid, appointed by the Home Ofiice Ministers to monitor the day to day life of prisoners, and ensure he appropriate level of care is received by prisoners.
An appointment with an IMB member will completely private, out of sight and hearing of the prison staff.
Some of the problems IMB members regularly deal with include:
Lost property reports
Visits from family and friends
Intimidation by prison staff
Complaints to a Member of Parliament
Every prisoner has the right to submit a complaint to the Parliament Commissioner for Administration through a Member of Parliament (MP) at any stage.
A prisoners MP will have their contact details publicly known, and the prisoner can contact them b y phone, fax, email or letter.