Black and Muslim Prisoners Twice as Likely to Be Treated Badly
Black and Muslim offenders are twice as likely to have negative experiences in jail than white inmates, according to a new report. The survey of nearly 400 prisoners found that negative outcomes are more common among black inmates: Forty per cent of black inmates had experienced a negative outcome – compared to 21 per cent of white inmates. The think-tank which conducted the research has called on the government to reverse staffing cuts and invest in cultural awareness training for prison officers to urgently address disproportionality, spiralling mental health issues and suicides behind bars.
Officers Accused of Racial Stereotyping
The Runnymede Trust, a race equality think-tank, and the University of Greenwich looked at the treatment of black and minority ethnic (BAME) inmates in four jails.
Inmates said they felt discriminated against due to their race and religion, and were racially and culturally stereotyped by prison officers.
According to the research, black and Muslim inmates are twice as likely to have bad experiences in custody, including having restraints used against them and spending time in segregation. Twenty-nine per cent of Muslim inmates did not have prison jobs or attend educational courses, compared with seventeen per cent of Christian prisoners.
Mental Health Training ‘Essentially Absent’
Runnymede Trust research associate Zubaida Haque said cuts to staffing were having an adverse effect on the treatment of prisoners.
“If the government quickly reverses staff cuts this will have a positive impact on mental health, suicides and disproportionality in prisons,” she said. “But cultural awareness and unconscious bias training for prison officers is also critical to address the negative stereotypes and everyday racism that BAME prisoners experience.”
People from black and minority ethnic backgrounds make up fourteen per cent of the general population, but make up twenty-five per cent of the adult prison population in England and Wales and forty-one per cent of the youth justice system. The government has pledged to boost the number of BAME prison officers, who currently only account for six per cent of officers.
Darrick Jolliffe from the centre for criminology at the University of Greenwich raised concerns about the link between poor treatment and self-harm and suicide.
“Our research in prison has shown a worrying trend, with the policies to prevent self-harm and suicide based on a staffing level that no longer exists,” he said. “Prison officers rarely have the time to develop the relationships with those in prison needed to truly provide support to help prevent self-harm and self-inflicted deaths, and the prison officer training on the complex area of mental health is essentially absent.”
Government ‘On-Track to Meet Recruitment Targets’
Responding to the Runnymede Trust report, a Prison Service Spokesperson said: “Black people and other ethnic minorities should not face discrimination in the criminal justice system, or anywhere else. That’s why we are looking at the findings of David Lammy’s extensive review into the treatment of BAME individuals in the criminal justice system.
“We welcome the insights of organisations such as the Runnymede Trust and have noted the contents of this report.”
The spokesperson said the government had invested £100m to increase frontline staffing by 2,500 prison officers over the next 18 months, adding that it was on track to meet its recruitment targets, having recently seen a net increase of 868 prison officers since January this year.