Prison service admits it is 'institutionally racist'

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The Independent Online

The head of the Prison Service, Martin Narey, has admitted his organisation is "institutionally racist" and there are "pockets of blatant and malicious racism" among his officers.

The head of the Prison Service, Martin Narey, has admitted his organisation is "institutionally racist" and there are "pockets of blatant and malicious racism" among his officers.

Mr Narey's views appear to agree with the findings by the chief inspector of prisons Sir David Ramsbotham, who accuses some prison officers of having an attitude to ethnic minority prisoners and their families which is "totally and utterly wrong". He added: "There is evidence that there is racism among members of staff in a very large number of prisons around the country."

Mr Narey's comments were made in a BBC television programme to be broadcast this evening in which Asian prisoners say officers racially abuse them and take no action when they are attacked by other inmates.

And a report discloses that Islamic clerics who visit the 4,400 Muslim prisoners jailed in England and Wales are being made to stand in line with prisoners for searching and subjected to abusive comments by staff.

One prison imam told researchers from the University of Central England that officers referred to him and Muslim inmates as "coons" and "Arabs".

The report states: "The research that we present here illustrates that anti-Muslim sentiment and overt racism may be a commonplace feature in a penal setting."

In the BBC2 East programme, Mr Narey says he is prepared to "go further" than former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon in acknowledging the levels of racism within his service. Last year, Sir Paul admitted the Met was "institutionally racist".

The prisons chief admits plans to put all staff on race relations courses by this year had been a failure, with 60 per cent of officers still awaiting training. Staff attending race relations classes, filmed by the programme, tell instructors that "we have gone PC-mad".

One male prison officer said: "At times you are afraid to open your mouth in case somebody finds what you are saying offensive. You can't have gollywogs on jam anymore, you can't say Baa, baa, black sheep. For heaven's sake where do you stop?" A female officer said: "It's gone too far. I have worked in other places where you can't even ask for a black coffee."

A report by the National Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders in May found 49 per cent of Asian prisoners had been racially abused and 12 per cent racially attacked. Amin Mubarek, whose 19-year-old son Zahid died earlier this year after being found injured in his cell at Feltham young offenders' institution, west London, said: "There was always a lot of racist abuse going on, a lot of trouble. The wardens just used to keep their heads down, and let prisoners get on with what they were doing."

Anjum Khan Qayum, 21, a prisoner serving six months, said officers "laughed off" his attempts to makel complaints about the racist and abusive language used on Asian prisoners by other inmates. He claimed one officer told him: "You Asians are no good on the outside, regardless of what your faith is. You sell drugs, you drink alcohol and then try to practise your faith. It doesn't make sense."

Many prisoners were fearful of being involved in the programme and two Asian inmates who gave interviews later said they had been victimised and transferred to other prisons. Mr Narey promised to investigate.

Next month he is introducing a pilot programme in five prisons where inmates would be able to collect complaints forms from a dispenser on the jail wing without having to request them from prison staff.

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