Black and Muslim prisoners suffer worse treatment, study finds

Research suggests BAME inmates have greater chance of segregation or restraint being used against them

Black and Muslim offenders are more likely to be badly treated in prison, leading to poorer outcomes and mental health concerns, research has found.

The Runnymede Trust, a race equality thinktank, and the University of Greenwich investigated the treatment of male black and minority ethnic (BAME) prisoners, surveying over 340 inmates across four prisons.

Those surveyed, of which 100 gave face-to-face interviews, felt discriminated against based on the basis of their race and religion, and were subject to cultural and racial stereotypes by prison officers.

The researchers found that being black or Muslim doubles a prisoner’s chances (40%) of having worse prison experiences – which includes having restraints used against them and being put into segregation in past six months – compared with white prisoners (21%).

They were also more likely to be on the lowest rung of the prison rewards and punishment scheme, more likely to be put into segregation and more likely to have restraint used against them. Almost a third of Muslim prisoners (29%) did not have prison jobs or attend education courses, compared with 17% of Christian prisoners. This issue particularly affects rehabilitation, Runnymede said.

Zubaida Haque, a research associate of the Runnymede Trust, said that offenders lose their right to liberty but should not lose their human rights, “especially in relation to personal safety”.

She said “far-reaching staff cuts” were having an impact 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.”

The subjects of the study are part of a growing group in prisons. People from BAME backgrounds make up 25% of the prison population in England and Wales and 41% of the youth justice system, despite these groups making up 14% of the general population, a recent review by Labour MP David Lammy found. The Muslim prison population has more than doubled since 2002.

Last week the government pledged to increase numbers of BAME officers in response to their race disparity audit. There is a significant racial diversity gap as BAME prison staff make up just 6% of all prison officers.

The charity have calculated that the government will need to hire four times as many BAME prison officers to reflect the prison population.

Darrick Jolliffe of 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.”

He said that austerity measures continue to widen the gap between policy and practice so “those most at risk in prison are quite literally falling through the gaps”.

He added: “Trained and confident staff who are provided with the time to be true agents of support and rehabilitation are desperately needed.”


Nicola Slawson

The GuardianTramp

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