Skip to main content

Category: Race and prison

The disproportionate use of PAVA spray in prisons has become “normalised”

Little progress in improving outcomes for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic prisoners

PRT comment: the experiences of adult black male prisoners and black prison staff

Consultation launched on ethnicity and prisoners’ experience

HMPPS must be willing to be held to account on tackling race disparities

Clarification sought on HMPPS Race Action Programme

PRT comment: Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities

Commenting on the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“For all its claimed emphasis on following the evidence, this complacent report turns a blind eye to the grossly disproportionate outcomes for Black people both in prison and on their journey to it. By contrast, The Lammy report of 2017, commissioned by a Tory Prime Minister from a prominent Labour politician, gave a compelling and authoritative account of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. The majority of its recommendations remain unimplemented, and the government’s current proposals on sentencing, by its own assessment,  will make the problem worse. Blithe optimism is no substitute for the clear eyed analysis and hard work needed to change a system  that discriminates from beginning to end.”

Click here to read more about the Prison Reform Trust’s work on tackling racial disparities in the criminal justice system

PRT comment: HM Inspectorate of Probation thematic report on race equality

Commenting on the findings of today’s (16 March) thematic report on race equality by HM Inspectorate of Probation, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“Different elements of the criminal justice system have regressed in their efforts to tackle race discrimination, despite the clearest possible roadmap for change from the Lammy report, and an apparent acceptance by the government of the need to either ‘explain or reform’.  This report highlights the urgent need for a renewed focus on tackling racial disparities across criminal justice agencies. The frequent assertion that we have the finest system of justice in the world simply doesn’t match up to the reality exposed by this and other inspection findings.”

This important report confirms the conclusion reached by Beverley Thompson OBE, writing in the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, that the prison and probation service has regressed in its efforts to tackle racial disparities. Click here to read.

Coalition warns new policing and sentencing bill will deepen racial inequality

The Prison Reform Trust, as part of a coalition of criminal justice and race equality organisations, has written to the Prime Minster warning that the government’s plans for policing and sentencing will further entrench racial inequality in the criminal justice system.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill entered parliament last week, and will be debated by ministers on Monday 15 and Tuesday 16 March. It contains a number of proposals which the government has conceded will have a disproportionate impact on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in equality assessments.

The government justifies this inequality as “a proportionate means of achieving the legitimate aim of protecting the public.” Yet in another official document, the government admits there is “limited evidence that the combined set of measures will deter offenders long term or reduce overall crime.”

The coalition calls for the government to withdraw the elements of the Bill it concedes will increase racial inequality and launch a proper public consultation, making the necessary changes to avoid discrimination.

The organisations who coordinated the open letter are: Agenda, Barrow Cadbury Trust, the Criminal Justice Alliance, EQUAL, Clinks, Leaders Unlocked, the Prison Reform Trust, Race on the Agenda, the Alliance for Youth Justice and the Zahid Mubarek Trust.

Click here to download a copy of the open letter.

Efforts to tackle racism in prisons have “regressed”

The prison service has “regressed” in its efforts to tackle racial inequality, a leading expert on equality and diversity in the criminal justice system has warned.

Writing in the latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefing Prison Factfile, Beverley Thompson OBE, a former senior civil servant and Race Equality Advisor (2004 – 2009) at HM Prison Service, says that “many in the prison service have either lost commitment and direction from their leadership or their organisational expertise and energy is depleted—seeking comfort instead from the dangerous mantra that ‘race has been done’.”

Over one quarter (27%) of people in prison are from a minority ethnic group despite making up 14% of the total population in England and Wales. If our prison population reflected the ethnic make-up of England and Wales, we would have over 9,000 fewer people in prison—the equivalent of 12 average-sized prisons. The economic cost of BAME over-representation in our prison system is estimated to be £234m a year. Black people are 53%, Asian 55%, and other ethnic minority groups 81% more likely to be sent to prison for an indictable offence at the Crown Court, even when factoring in higher not-guilty plea rates. BAME people in prison often report more negatively about their experience in prison and relationships with staff.

In a specially commissioned piece for the Factfile, Ms Thompson charts the complex history of race relations in the prison service over the past two decades, from the murder of Zahid Mubarek at Feltham prison in 2000, which prompted a significant review of prison policy on race relations, through to the publication in 2017 of David Lammy’s seminal review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, BAME individuals in the criminal justice system.

Zahid Mubarek was a British Pakistani teenager who was murdered by his cellmate on 21 March 2000 at the Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution in southwest London. His murder led to the establishment of an independent inquiry and an ambitious programme of work in prisons to tackle racial discrimination, culminating in the publication in 2008 of the prison service’s race review.

Ms Thompson compares efforts by the prison service to tackle racial inequality in the wake of the Mubarek murder with its current lack of focus on the issue. She highlights the case of Mohamed Sharif, a Muslim prisoner at HMP Bristol in 2014, who was left severely brain damaged following an attack by a white prisoner who had previously told staff he would “only share a cell with a white person who was not homosexual”. This case, she says, “shares striking similarities with the murder Zahid Mubarek.”

She concludes: “It is disheartening to see a service which demonstrated such maturity, vision, transparency and commitment to eradicating racism and discrimination, but which unfortunately appears to have regressed. It is only right that we ask, “if not now, when”.

In September 2017, David Lammy published his hard-hitting assessment of institutional racism within the criminal justice system. It uncovered disproportionality at every stage from prosecution through to sentencing and resettlement. The Ministry of Justice accepted all 35 Lammy recommendations and its fundamental challenge that government and criminal justice agencies must either explain the reasons for racial disparity in a particular situation and if it cannot do so, reform the system to eradicate racism.

In February 2020, the Ministry of Justice published an update on progress in implementing the Lammy recommendations. Although the update provides comprehensive details on what the government is doing on each of Lammy’s 35 recommendations, it does not include an assessment of the impact of any of this work.

For the Ministry of Justice’s efforts to tackle disproportionality to gain proper credibility, this will need to be rectified, especially since we know that, for instance, the proportion of our youth custody population who come from BAME backgrounds has actually increased since the Lammy report was published.

Furthermore, decisions such as that to roll out PAVA spray to all closed adult male prisons, despite clear evidence of the disproportionate impact of use of force on BAME prisoners, undermine the prison service’s commitment to addressing racial disparities.

In addition, proposals contained in the government’s sentencing white paper are likely to worsen disproportionate outcomes for BAME individuals. For instance, the Equality Statement acknowledges that the proposal to extend the automatic release point from half- to two-thirds of the sentence will have a disproportionate impact on, “Men, people with a Black or Black British ethnicity as well as younger adult offenders (aged 18-24) and offenders over the age of 50”. But it does not describe the impact on these individuals, nor explain the reasons for the disparities.

Commenting, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“There was a time when the Prison Service led the way in its practical actions to tackle race discrimination. Taking the long view, it is clear that other priorities have gradually taken over. But the problems have not gone away. Indeed, in some respects the government is about to make the situation worse, with harsh sentencing proposals which will disproportionately affect young black people. It is time the Prison Service put race equality back at the top of its agenda.”

Click here to download a copy of the report.