More than one on four prisoners are from a minority ethnic group despite making up 14% of the total population in England and Wales. According to the latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefing, if the prison population reflected the ethnic make-up of the country there would be more than 9,000 fewer people in prison or ‘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,’ reports the Prison Reform Trust. The study claims that Black people are 53% more likely to be sent to prison for an indictable offence at the Crown Court and Asian people 55%more likely. ‘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”,’ writes Beverley Thompson OBE, former Race Equality Advisor at HM Prison Service.
Thompson looks at race relations in the prison service from the murder of Zahid Mubarek at Feltham prison in 2000, which prompted a significant review of prison policy on race relations, through to David Lammy’s 2017 review into the treatment of race in the criminal justice system. Zahid Mubarek, a British Pakistani teenager, was bludgeoned to death with a wooden table leg as he slept by his cell mate, a diagnosed psychopath and known racist.
Thompson said that case shared ‘striking similarities’ with the case of Mohamed Sharif, a Muslim prisoner at HMP Bristol, who was left severely brain damaged in 2014 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’. ‘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,’ she wrote. ‘It is only right that we ask, “if not now, when”.’