Prisoners complain about cold cells and missing cards

Preston Prison
Preston Prison
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My cell is too cold, my Christmas card hasn’t arrived and I haven’t got my newspaper...

These are just some of the astonishing catalogue of complaints made by inmates inside Preston prison in the past year.

Prisoners in the Ribbleton Lane jail swamped wardens with more than 1,300 complaints about the quality of services in just 12 months.

More than 70 of them were about money, mail and food between December 2011 and November 2012.

And inmates also moaned about Christmas cards and emails not being received, prison wages not being paid correctly and even not getting enough bread.

Among the other complaints received were:

l An inmate saying the bunk beds were too low

l A complaint that a cell was too cold

l Prisoners who moaned they had not received their newspapers. Another said he hadn’t got the right paper

Today union bosses said they were not surprised by the results, claiming there is a growing compensation culture among prisoners who realise they can get cash for even frivolous complaints.

Glyn Travis, assistant secretary of the Prison Officers Association, said: “What we’re finding is in the last 12 months to two years, prisoners are making more and more frivolous complaints, which obviously have to be investigated by the Ombudsman, which is of a great cost to the taxpayer.

“The POA is trying to get the Ministry of Justice to bring back a new prison rule, which was abolished in 1999-2000, where if you’re found to make a frivolous complaint, you could be charged.

“So the number of complaints at Preston is high, but the trend is on the increase rather than the decrease.

“Under a compensation culture, prisoners realise that if somebody makes a complaint, they can get £10-100 compensation.

“It’s not rocket science that the compensation culture amongst prisoners is certainly a contributing factor to the number of complaints being made.”

Out of 73 mail related grievances, 19 of them happened during the first two months of 2012 after Christmas cards and emails did not arrive. Parcels were also returned to senders.

There were also 73 complaints about cash, such as claims of incorrect or non-payment of wages and cash not received from a letter sent in December.

Almost 43 per cent of complaints about catering were made in September and October last year.

Detainees said they were served too much or too little frozen bread, while, in three cases, inmates said they got meals they didn’t order.

March last year saw 11 food-related problems, including one inmate saying fruit was rotten and another who wanted a diabetic diet.

There was also close to 60 separate points raised about the incentives and earned privileges scheme, which intends to discipline prisoners by rewarding privileges such as higher pay and the ability to wear their own clothes, for responsible behaviour.

Many of these complaints were about privileges being withdrawn and others dispute staff reasons for downgrades, such as “talking too loudly at night.”

Other issues raised in the category B male prison were the disappearance of a gold ring from reception in September, personal items going missing after returning from court and someone who “attended court in error” in March.

A further 147 complaints were labelled ‘confidential access’, usually sensitive or serious matters, which are sent straight to the governor in a sealed envelope.

Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Prisoner complaints often centre on the details of life inside and reveal the frustrations, powerlessness and lack of choice in the limited, closed world of prisons.

“Far too often prisoners are not engaged in purposeful activity and encouraged to take personal responsibility, both of which would help to reduce unacceptably high re-offending rates.”

With regard to the complaints over cash, the Ministry of Justice have confirmed all the prisoners have received a response to their complaint and they now all receive their money - except for one prisoner, whose money was returned to the sender, and he has transferred to another prison.

Prisoners can raise a complaint through various avenues, including using equalities complaints forms, confidential access to the governor or regional manager, medical complaints made to NHS staff, letters to MPs, and verbal complaints.

Prisoners may appeal against the answer to their complaint and, if they remain dissatisfied, may ask the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman to investigate.

A Prison Service spokesman said: “A formal complaints process plays an important part in defusing prisoners’ concerns and most issues can be resolved before they become serious.”