Black prisoners and white guards ‘should cook together to break down barriers’

Senior staff tell HM Inspectorate of Prisons the initiative could begin immediately, after report highlights deep divisions

Black prisoners and white guards should cook and eat together as a way of breaking down cultural barriers and suspicions, the official prisons watchdog has said.

Some senior prison staff told HM Inspectorate of Prisons that the initiative could begin immediately after concerns of deep divisions between black prisoners and prison staff who remain predominantly white.

Fundamental to the divisions that the report identified were a lack of trust and communication – a factor that has contributed to a disproportionate use of force against black prisoners, a report released on Tuesday has found.

The report said senior managers, guards and black prisoners were supportive of the idea of cooking and eating food together.

“Specific food preparation can reinforce confidence, pride and enjoyment in cultural identity. It is a point of connection with other people and has a deep emotional significance,” the report said.

Managers in some prisons told inspectors said they could launch the initiative straight away.

“Some senior managers thought that they could start to explore this suggestion immediately because they had enough space and cooking facilities in their establishments,” the report said.

Others said it would be a challenge because of a lack of space and resources.

“Staff stressed the need for proper investment in equipment and health and safety assessment,” the report said.

Immigration removal centres already have “cultural kitchens”, where groups of detainees are able to obtain raw food ingredients, cook meals together and then invite others to share meals with them, the inspectorate said.

“An expanded version of this type of facility might provide a useful blueprint for prisons, and we have already seen self-catering kitchens work well on inspection, providing prisoners with opportunities to socialise, plan meals and practice budgeting skills,” the report said.

Other potential solutions to existing divisions include “reverse mentoring”, whereby prisoners provide insights into their lives during private discussions with staff, joint prisoner and staff forums, and joint training and education.

Black men in prison told inspectors that staff viewed them as a group rather than as individuals and did not understand their distinct cultures.

White staff often wrongly associated black prisoners with gangs, and black prisoners felt that this had far-reaching implications for their day-to-day treatment.

While making up approximately 13% of the prison population in 2020–21, black prisoners accounted for disproportionately more use of force by officers, the report found. They were more than twice as likely as other ethnic groups to have batons and incapacitant spray used against them.

Charlie Taylor, the chief inspector of prisons, said: “Our report proposes a number of solutions developed in discussion with both black prisoners and prison staff that focus on creating opportunities for respectful communication and the development of mutual understanding. We believe they have the potential to be transformative.”

The report, entitled “Thematic review: the experiences of adult black male prisoners and black prison staff”, has been produced after interviewing black prisoners, black staff, white staff and senior managers at seven prisons.

It comes amid reports that restaurant chains such as Wagamama are sending their chefs into prisons to teach prisoners how to create signature dishes.

Amy Rees, director general and chief executive of HM Prisons and Probation Service, said: “This report shows we have further to go to drive out discrimination and intolerance from our prisons.

“We have made real progress over recent years in recruiting a more diverse workforce, improving training and providing new forums in which concerns can be raised safely and honestly. But I want to assure staff and prisoners that we are listening and will set out further steps shortly to address the issues raised in this report.”


Rajeev Syal Home affairs editor

The GuardianTramp

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