Lost property payouts to prisoners
Prisoners have been awarded compensation over damaged stereos and missing socks, a watchdog has revealed.
Taxpayers' money is being wasted on redress paid to prisoners for lost or damaged property, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) said.
Prison staff need to pay greater attention to their responsibility for prisoners' property to avoid complaints being made, the Ombudsman added.
Around a fifth of eligible complaints received by the Ombudsman in 2012/13 were about property.
And more than half (57%) of the property-related complaints received in the same period were upheld in favour of the inmate.
PPO Nigel Newcomen said: " Most property complaints concern small-value items, but these can still mean a lot to prisoners with little.
"Unfortunately, too many of the issues involved could and should have been dealt with more quickly and efficiently by the prisons concerned.
"Instead, despite perfectly sound national policies and instructions, prisons too often refuse to accept their responsibilities when property has been lost or damaged.
"This leaves prisoners in limbo, creates unnecessary frustration and tension and leads to complaints, too many of which require independent adjudication.
"Using up scarce staff resources in this way, both in prison and then in my office, is not a good use of public money."
Prisoners may hold items in possession during their imprisonment subject to guidelines set out in Prison Service rules.
Complaints by prisoners about lost or damaged property are expected to be investigated in accordance with the same guidelines.
If prisoners have exhausted the internal complaints process but they remain unhappy with the conclusion, they are able to submit a complaint to be investigated by the PPO.
Among examples given by the PPO was the case of "Mr H", who complained his stereo was damaged as he moved between prisons.
Following an investigation, the Ombudsman concluded responsibility for damage to the stereo lay with the prison Mr H had left and recommended a compensation settlement and apology be provided to Mr H.
Another case saw "Mr K" complaining after being told that the prison's correspondence department was holding only one pair of socks that had been disallowed, rather than five pairs he claimed had been posted in by family members.
The Ombudsman asked the prison correspondence department to search for the socks, but it explained that the prison had a vast storage area for disallowed items through the post and would need senior authorisation to search for the items.
Although the Ombudsman received agreement from a senior officer for further inquiries to be made, no further response was received from the prison.
Due to the time taken being disproportionate to the seriousness of the complaint, the Ombudsman agreed that the prison would pay a £5 goodwill gesture for the missing property.
A Prison Service spokeswoman said: " We aim to ensure that prisoners' property is managed as efficiently as possible, and will consider this report to see if any lessons can be learned."