Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report


349. The graph below compares the prison population by ethnic group with that of the adult population of England and Wales by ethnic group as at 28 February 2003. At the end of February 2003, one in four of the prison population—17,762 prisoners—belonged to a minority ethnic group. This compares to one in 11 in the general population. More than a third (6,623) were foreign nationals.

350. Among British nationals belonging to a minority ethnic group, 12% were black and 3% South Asian. Black prisoners are significantly over-represented in the prison system. In November 2003, black men constituted around 15% of the male prison population. Black men make up an even larger disproportion of the remand population than of the sentenced offender population.

Source: Prison Population Brief, November 2003, Home Office

351. The most recent religious statistics were published in 2000. At that time, the largest group of prisoners were Anglicans, who comprised 39% of the prison population. Next in size was the group with no religion (32%), followed by Roman Catholics at 17% and Muslims at 7% of the prison population (the number of Muslims in prison doubled between 1993 and 2000). Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs each accounted for around half of one percent of the prison population.[284]

352. Once arrested, black people are more likely to be remanded in custody than other offenders charged with similar offences and more likely to be given longer sentences than either white or Asian prisoners.[285] Additionally, once in prison, black people are more likely to be found guilty of disciplinary offences: in Part 2 of its Report on Racial Equality in Prisons (December 2003),[286] the Commission for Racial Equality noted that prison statistics clearly suggest a consistent over-representation of black male prisoners in the prison disciplinary system and disproportionate numbers of black prisoners on the basic level of the Incentives and Earned Privilege schemes at certain establishments, such as HMP Brixton and YOI Feltham. The Commission reports that although prisons have been required since 1991 to monitor the area of disciplinary charges, they have failed to do so effectively and even where records indicated a consistent pattern of apparent discrimination, prisons have largely failed to investigate their causes or take any action.

353. We are deeply concerned at the over-representation of minority ethnic groups, particularly black men, across the criminal justice system, and by suggestions that black prisoners are more likely to be found guilty of disciplinary offences and less likely to have access to constructive activities in prison.[287] The absence of comprehensive ethnic and religious monitoring across the prison estate is much to be regretted, as is the resultant lack of empirical data regarding the treatment of minority ethnic and religious groups within the prison system. We recommend that mechanisms be put in place for the systematic collation and comparison of data relating to the ethnic and religious backgrounds of prisoners (i) on disciplinary charges, (ii) in segregation, (iii) on basic regimes, and (iv) allocated the most basic prison work opportunities. This data is important to the development of prison diversity policies at the national, regional and local levels. It is also essential as a means of alerting the Prison Service to practices and procedures which may be directly or indirectly discriminatory by disproportionately adversely affecting minority ethnic prisoners.

354. Prison Service Order 2800 makes it mandatory for every prison establishment to establish a Race Relations Management Team.[288] In its National Action Plan, the Government commits itself to "mainstream all aspects of diversity to ensure that the needs of particular groups are properly addressed."[289] The specific needs of minority ethnic and religious groups may be quite different from the needs of white prisoners, for complex social reasons, as the Commission for Racial Equality points out in its report on Racial Equality in Prisons, published in December 2003:

    "To a significant degree, the high incarceration rate for the black group reflects greater police attention driven by ethnic identity rather than social circumstances… In society at large, it is the suspect's blackness which attracts primary police attention, as opposed to the manifestations of aspects of social exclusion … which attracts police attention to particular individuals in the white group. It would, therefore, be particularly wrong to see the black group in prison as necessarily reflecting the social indices of a socially excluded group as compared to a socially included white group. In fact, it is the white group of prisoners who more predominantly reflect the socially excluded sections of the white population in society at large, and therefore carry into prison some of the consequential problems such as high rates of illiteracy.

    The black male group in prison experiences an inversion of some of the social experiences imposed on the black group outside prison … inside it is less likely than the white group to fail to cope mentally with imprisonment and much less likely to commit suicide. It is more likely to want to be educated and trained and less likely to try to escape, though it faces a higher rate of guilty verdicts in disciplinary hearings."[290]

355. In 2002 the Government set up a Criminal Justice System Race Unit to:

    "to get beneath the surface of race issues in the justice system. It will work across all criminal justice departments and agencies, looking at the system as a whole, and identifying what works and actively managing change."[291]

The Unit has not yet looked in detail at the experience of prisoners from minority ethnic groups.

356. We welcome the Government's commitment in its National Action Plan to 'mainstream' diversity. However, we consider that that specific measures with set timetables are required to address the problems identified by the Commission for Racial Equality in its recent report on racial equality in prisons. We recommend that, in the short term, the Government's Criminal Justice System Race Unit should conduct an internal audit of the Prison Service's rehabilitation interventions to assess whether they comply with the needs of minority ethnic and religious groups. A revised version of the National Action Plan should contain specific action points identified by the audit as necessary to remedy deficiencies in the current provision of rehabilitation interventions to minority ethnic and religious prisoners, together with targets for implementation and mechanisms for ongoing monitoring.

284   National Statistics Office, Religion in Prisons 1999 and 2000, England and Wales (2001) Back

285   Prison Reform Trust Factfile, July 2004 Back

286   The CRE Report was published further to a formal investigation by the Commission for Racial Equality, under sections 48-52 of the Race Relations Act 1976, into HM Prison Service of England and Wales. Back

287   Social Exclusion Unit report, Reducing re-offending by ex-prisoners (2002) and CRE report , Racial Equality in Prisons (2003) Back

288   Issued in 1997 and revised in part in 2000 Back

289   National Action Plan, p 5 Back

290   CRE, Racial Equality in Prisons (2003), p 28 Back

291 Back

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