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Grievance Procedures in Prisons: A Study of Prisoners' Applications and Petitions

NCJ Number
J Ditchfield; C Austin
Date Published
78 pages
A study of grievance procedures in British prisons aimed to identity variations in practices in different prisons and to assess the confidence of inmates and staff in the procedures.
Data came from six prisons for adult male offenders. Record reviews, observations, and interviews with inmates, staff, and members of Boards of Visitors were the data sources. The six-prison sample consisted of pairs of prisons matched for inmate characteristics and including one prison with a high rate of petitions. Petitions were chosen as the distinguishing feature of each pair of prisons in the expectation that differences in petitions would reflect differences in local practices for dealing with inmate grievances, rather than different population characteristics. The application and petition rates tended to reflect the inmate population and inmate attitudes toward the expression of requests and grievances, rather than particular management practices such as the delegation of responsibility, recording practices, or the existence of a policy of 'social work in prison.' Thus, the overall level of petitioning is unlikely to decline. The petitions to the Home Office tended to involve issues only it was allowed to handle; few petitions consisted of appeals against local decisions. Widespread dissatisfaction did not exist regarding the time taken to reply to petitions. The majority of both staff and inmates felt that the replies to petitions lacked adequate detail and reasons for the decisions reached. However, analysis of actual replies showed a larger proportion of them to be of explanatory form than this criticism might suggest. Giving detailed replies to petitions could help maintain confidence in grievance procedures. Systematic monitoring of petitioners' files would also provide useful information for policy formulation. Data tables, appended tables and chart, and 9 references.