BAME and Muslim prisoners more likely to receive poor treatment


A recent study conducted by the Runnymede Trust, a race equality thinktank, and the University of Greenwich has found that black and Muslim individuals are more likely to receive harsher treatment in prisons, and that this treatment leads to poorer rates of rehabilitation and deteriorated mental health. Focusing on male black and minority ethnic offenders, this study involved 340 subjects in total over four different facilities.

Of the 340, 100 prisoners participated in an interviewing process. Interviewees expressed that they routinely felt discriminated against due to race or religion, and that prison guards and employees often subjected them to harmful stereotypes. Findings reported that the chances of BAME prisoners having disproportionately worsened prison experiences – i.e. ones involving use of restraints and solitary confinement within the last six months – are 40%. White prisoners are only 21% as likely. Additionally, BAME prisoners were less likely than white prisoners to be ranked highly on the prison rewards and punishment scheme. 29% of Muslim prisoners were without prison jobs or did not attend academic courses, while only 17% of Christian prisoners were similarly uninvolved. This lack of involvement, according to the Runnymede Trust, is particularly detrimental to the rehabilitation process.

A research associate with the Runnymede Trust, Zubaida Haque, states that “far-reaching staff cuts” were partially to blame, but that “cultural awareness and unconscious bias training for prison officers is also critical to address the negative stereotypes and everyday racism that BAME prisoners experience”.

This study is only a small foray into investigating the institutional inequalities that permeate our prison systems. In England and Wales, BAME individuals make up a quarter of the prison population and 41% of the juvenile justice system – even though people from BAME backgrounds only make up 14% of the total population. The number of incarcerated Muslims in the United Kingdom is more than twice what it was in 2002.

In early October 2017, the government made a commitment to hiring more BAME prison officers in response to the race disparity audit, as BAME prison employees make up only 6% of all prison staff. The Runnymede Trust posits that the government would need to hire four times as many BAME officers if this disparity is to be amended.

Darrick Joliffe of the centre for criminology at the University of Greenwich highlights the fact that poor treatment in prisons leads to higher rates of self-destructive behaviour and suicide. He comments that “those most at risk in prison are quite literally falling through the gaps”. The solution, according to Joliffe, is “[t]rained and confident staff who are provided with the time to be true agents of support and rehabilitation”.

Ayan Goran