Prisoner complaints

If a prisoner has a complaint, and the problem hasn’t been resolved after talking to a member of staff, there are three stages of the prison complaint system they can use.

Stage 1

They should fill in details of their complaint on a COMP1 form which should be freely available within the prison. This should be placed into a designated sealed complaints box. The complaint must be made within three months of the problem arising. The prisoner can expect to receive a response within 3-10 days.

Stage 2

If the prisoner is not satisfied with the response they can 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 needs to detail their reasons why they are not happy with their first response.

A prisoner can expect to receive a response in 7-10 seven days of them receiving the application.

Stage 3

If a prisoner is still not happy with the response they have received, he may make a final appeal to the governing governor of the prison. This should normally be done within seven days of receiving the stage 2 response. The final appeal and the governing governor’s response are entered onto the same form as that used for stage 2.

Reserved complaints and requests

There are certain types of complaints that cannot be considered internally within the prison. These include:

  • complaints against the governor;
  • requests for artificial insemination;
  • parole;
  • early release on compassionate grounds;
  • issues surrounding mother and baby placements;
  • transfers;
  • category A prisoners (visitors, transfers, category complaints, change of name and marriage requests);
  • juvenile allocations.

When any of the above arises, the prisoner should still complete the COMP1 form, but instead of posting the form in the complaints box, the prisoner should send the application to the Prison Service Headquarters or in the case of parole complaint, the Parole board.

A reply can be expected within six weeks of sending the application.

A confidential access complaint

A confidential access complaint is usually used when a prisoner’s complaint is very serious or sensitive, or about a member of staff that frequently works around the prisoner.

To complain in this manner, the prisoner should fill in a COMP2 Confidential Access Complaint Form and explain on why they are complaining in this more private way. 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 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 should place the completed COMP2 or letter in a sealed envelope, and address it to the person they want to deal with the complaint. This could be the prison governor, the prison manager, chairman or the Independent Monitoring board. The prisoner can expect a response within six weeks.

The Independent Monitoring Board

If the prisoner would like to meet someone who can help with a complaint, who is independent from the prison, they can request a meeting with a member of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB)

IMB members are unpaid and appointed by the Home Office to monitor the day to day life of prisoners and ensure the appropriate level of care is received. A meeting with an IMB member will be private.

Some of the problems IMB members deal with include:

  • lost property reports;
  • visits from family and friends;
  • religious requirements;
  • cultural requests;
  • bullying;
  • intimidation by prison staff.

Other ways to complain

If a prisoner is not happy with the way the prison has dealt with their complaint, they can write to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman within one month of getting an answer from prison staff about their complaint. The ombudsman should usually take 12 weeks or less to look into the complaint. If the ombudsman thinks the prisoner was not treated in the right way, they may ask the governor to change their decision or recommend changes to the head of the Prison Service.

Prisoners can complain to their Member of Parliament (MP) at any stage via phone, fax, email or letter.

If the complaint is about health, the prisoner can contact their Primary Care Trust. If they’re not satisfied with their response they can ask the Healthcare Commission to look at the complaint. If they are still not happy, they can then ask the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to consider their complaint.


Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.