Prisoner’s property

If you’re sent to prison, there may be a number of items you want to take with you, whether because they are financially valuable or merely personally treasured. Your main concern will be that these items are stored safely and securely if they’re not in your personal possession.

Is the prison service responsible for a prisoner’s property?

A prisoner’s property is divided into two categories:

  • stored property – property kept in the possession of the prison service (stored property); and
  • ‘in possession’ property – property personally kept with the prisoner during his time in jail.

Stored property

If stored property is lost either when it is taken off the prisoner on reception, or during a prisoner’s transfer, providing this property has been detailed in the prisoner’s property record, the prison service will be liable for the loss and will have to pay the prisoner compensation.

The storage of prisoners’ excess property, either locally or centrally, is generally an exceptional or temporary measure. Prisoners’ property which is not held ‘in possession’, handed out or stored locally will be stored at the National Distribution Centre (NDC) Branston. Governors must ensure a detailed record is kept of all property either held locally or sent to the NDC Branston.

Property in personal possession

What ‘in possession’ property a prisoner is allowed to retain varies from prison to prison, although a prisoner must always be allowed to have in possession, or have access to, such artefacts, texts, and incense, as are required by their religion.

Retention of other in possession property is usually down to the governor’s discretion and may also depend on the privilege level they have reached under the local Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme (ie, the status set each prisoner within the prison based upon their behavior). It is also subject to the limitations of ‘volumetric control’, which aims to ensure that cells do not become so cluttered that effective searching is difficult, and that the quantity of property which accompanies prisoners on transfer, or is held in storage, is manageable.

It is unlikely the prison service will be held responsible for property held in a prisoner’s possession, given the prisoner may give his property to another or damage/ misplace it – all of which the prison service has no control over.

Exceptions to this general rule, which are based on the law of negligence, means the prison service will be liable for a prisoner’s lost property, even if it is in his possession, if:

  • the prisoner has been moved from his current location to another without any prior warning or time to secure all his property in his personal possession;
  • the prisoner has been temporarily transferee.

Confiscation of a prisoner’s property

Some items may be temporarily confiscated by the prison governor, including:

  • any unauthorised items found in the personal possession of the prisoner;
  • any item found in the prisoner’s personal possession that is an authorised item, but has been used in an unauthorised manner. This may include property used to threaten good order within the prison, discipline or security measures.

If any property is temporarily removed from the prisoner’s possession, he must have a full explanation of the reasons why and what the next steps will be.

In light of the High Court’s ruling in Coleman (2009), prison governors do not have a general power to permanently confiscate / destroy a prisoner’s property. All items must be handed back to the prisoner when he is permanently released from prison.

Valuable property

When a prisoner is checked in, any retained cash or existing cash that has already been removed, must be paid into an account which is credited to that prisoner’s name. Even though the account is in the prisoner’s name, ultimate control of this account will lie with the prison governor.

Any items of jewellery on the prisoner will be listed as either white or yellow metal, which essentially refers to gold or silver.

Any passports or identification cards held by a foreign national prisoner who has been informed of his deportation, must be forwarded by the prison service to the nation Borders Agency UK.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.