The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman publish their 2019/20 Annual Report

The year covered by this annual report has been another in which demand for our services has remained high, although there were small, but welcome, falls in both the number of complaints we received and the number of deaths into which we started investigations. We received 4,686 complaints in 2019/20, 6% fewer than the 4,968 in the previous year. We started investigations into 311 deaths, a 7% reduction from 2018/19, when the figure was 334.

The imposition of the national lockdown in response to COVID-19 brought significant changes to how the PPO were able to work, but we worked to strengthen the knowledge and understanding that our partners and stakeholders have of the PPO and the work that we do.

Key findings:

  • Once again, in 2019/20 the largest proportion of complaints we received were about property. The report added that “Property is still a problem area, and we remain committed to improving outcomes for prisoners and prisons.” These complaints amounted to 28% of all complaints we received (a small but welcome drop from last year).
  • In 2019/20, we received the first complaint about the use of Pelargonic Acid Vanillylamide (PAVA) incapacitant spray and found, in our investigation, that PAVA had not been used in accordance with the requirements of the policy. We note that the provision of PAVA has now been extended to all adult male closed prisons, although training more staff in its use has been paused. We are concerned by this decision to roll out PAVA without the previously agreed preconditions of an effective key worker scheme and the need for at least 50% of staff to be trained in its use before it is issued in a prison.
  • In our fatal incident investigations, we found that healthcare in some prisons did not meet the required standard and was not equivalent to that in the community. The report added: “Whilst we found examples of good practice in some of the cases we investigated, in others we found that staff were not adequately trained, that there were not enough staff to carry out essential tasks or, in some cases, that healthcare professionals failed in their duty of care to patients.”
  • The report highlights a 7% decrease in the number of self-inflicted death investigations started, from 89 in 2018/19 to 83 in 2019/20. This was a positive early finding but the numbers are still too high and it is too early to say if the trend will continue.
  • Our investigations into some drug related deaths in probation approved premises (APs) have led us to recommend that the National Probation Service should review its drugs strategy, particularly that AP staff should be able to test for psychoactive substances (PS). The most recent commitment from the NPS is that they aim to roll out a revised strategy over the course of 2020. Sue McAllister commented: “Whilst this is encouraging, we are concerned that the strategy has long been promised and we consider that urgent action is now needed to make sure the new deadline is met.”

Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Sue McAllister CB:

“Our focus on effectiveness and impact included looking at the recommendations we make, particularly in our fatal incident investigation reports, to make sure they are focused on outcomes that will contribute to safer, more decent prisons and other places of detention.”

Download the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman 2019/20 Annual Report