Cell killing triggers inquiry into 'racist' prisons

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The Independent Online

Britain's Race watchdog is to take the highly unusual step of launching a formal investigation into racism within the Prison Service of England and Wales.

Britain's Race watchdog is to take the highly unusual step of launching a formal investigation into racism within the Prison Service of England and Wales.

The Commission for Racial Equality will announce early next week that it has decided to carry out the inquiry after receiving alarming evidence of the racist treatment of ethnic minority prisoners and jail staff throughout the country's 135 jails.

The formal investigation follows a damning internal prison service report on racism at Brixton prison in south London and the murder of a teenage Asian prisoner by his racist cellmate in a west London jail for young offenders.

A CRE source said: "This formal investigation is almost the last throw of the dice to bring about race equality in the prison service."

CRE officials will visit jails across the country to gather evidence, interviewing prisoners, and summoning prison chiefs and more junior staff as witnesses to the inquiry.

Officials will be able to demand prison personnel records and other official paperwork as evidence for their investigation. It is only the third time in the past decade that CRE commissioners have invoked their law enforcement powers, which form part of the Race Relations Act of 1976.

The last big formal investigation by the CRE was into the Army in 1994. The inquiry lasted two years and has helped to bring about important changes in recruitment and the investigation of complaints on discrimination. The other formal investigation in recent years began in July into the Croydon branch office of the Crown Prosecution Service.

The CRE began taking a close interest in prison racism after being alerted to the case of a black Brixton prison officer, Claude Johnson, who was humiliated and abused by white colleagues, a tribunal ruled.

The abuse continued after Mr Johnson returned to work. He has been awarded £110,000 in damages after bringing three discrimination cases and suffering a nervous breakdown.

Last week, an audit of Brixton jail by prison service race relations adviser Judy Clements found widespread harassment of ethnic minority staff and inmates.

She reported that black prisoners were being kept locked in their cells without reason and that some inmates had been told to "go back to Africa" by white staff.

The findings came a day before a racist prisoner was jailed for life for murdering cell-mate Zahid Mubarek, 19, in Feltham young offenders' institution, west London.

Earlier this year, the prison service's director-general, Martin Narey, told 'The Independent' that he accepted that his organisation was "institutionally racist".

Mr Narey, who set up the Respond race-equality scheme to tackle discrimination, has admitted there are "pockets of blatant racism" in prisons and is understood to have told CRE commissioners he would "welcome" a formal investigation.

The Police Complaints Authority yesterday announced that there was a 75 per cent rise in complaints of racially discriminatory behaviour by police officers in the year to April. The PCA said the 579 complaints probably reflected greater public confidence that concerns would be treated seriously.