Welcome to issue #5 of The Investigator, the PPO’s regular newsletter

The Investigator, PPO newsletter

Welcome to the latest issue of The Investigator.

In this edition, our first in lockdown, we aim to tell you something about how the work of the PPO is being delivered in these unprecedented and challenging times. Two articles, one focused on our complaints work and a second on our fatal incident investigations outline in more detail the steps we have taken to keep going, to fulfil our obligations and continue our assessments, our investigations and our thematic and research work.

Three months ago, we were told we couldn’t get into our offices and we had to quickly make arrangements for all our staff to work from home. We were lucky that many of us already did some work from home and so we had the IT and the infrastructure to hit the ground running, or at least power walking, as we wrestled with the urgent questions such as: how do we get to our post, how do we correspond with people in prison and how do we deal with matters raised with us that need an immediate response. The answers to those, and other, questions are in the articles that follow. We are now doing many things in a more agile, sustainable and efficient way. Scanning solutions, emailing, video calls might have been the norm in some sectors for most of this century but for us, it took a global pandemic to land us truly in 2020.

But, it certainly isn’t a job done and we are still looking for ways to tackle the barriers that remain so that our investigations can continue as they should. Accessing CCTV and Body Worn Video Camera footage is not simple, with no access to the cupboard full of the different laptops we used when we were in Canary Wharf. From 6 July 2020, a small number of staff will be able to return to the office building for the first time since lockdown. This will enable us to print letters and send complaint outcome reports to complainants. The rest of the PPO will continue to work remotely and we have been planning our gradual return to whatever normal will look like in the future.

Despite, and, perhaps, because of, the restrictions of lockdown, we have seen some great examples of collaboration between the respective Arm’s Length Bodies and with others who monitor and scrutinise prisons and other places of detention. At the start, we worked with HMIP and the IMB Secretariat to agree an information sharing protocol so that we could share what each of us were learning about what was happening in prisons. Information from phone calls, emails, virtual IMB monitoring and HMIP’s short scrutiny visits, as well as from our own investigations is now routinely shared and we are looking at how we can build on this to develop richer intelligence across our organisations. I have regular conversations, via video, with the third sector bodies which have continued their work, some of them having had to make radical changes to their operating models where they can’t access prisons, offices or one another. We share information, discuss our concerns and agree how we can have most impact on the services that need our scrutiny more than ever.

As we plan for a gradual, safe and sustainable return to a new normal, we will make sure that we hold onto the good things that have come out of this period of lockdown. The collaboration, the support and the increased appetite for innovation have meant that our work has continued, with some, inevitable, delay and disruption but with the same commitment to making our contribution to safer, fairer and more decent prisons.   

Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Sue McAllister

Thank you for reading,

Sue McAllister, Prisons and Probation Ombudsman

Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Newsletter, features

Investigating complaints in lockdown

Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on fatal incident investigations

Prisons and Probation, newsletter subscription