Letter: Discrimination in the prison system

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The Independent Online
Sir: As the author of the Prison Reform Trust's report Black Workers in the Prison Service (reported on by Adam Sage on 27 July), I was disappointed at the defensive and complacent response of the director of personnel and finance of the Prison Service (letter, July 30).

Rather than admit to the reality of racism in the service, a reality shared by all criminal justice agencies, and endeavour to redouble efforts to put policy into practice, Tony Butler chooses to emphasise the quality of the paper policies promulgated by the service. Indeed, his grudging admission that 'there could still be individual instances of racial discrimination' amounts to a denial of the fact of institutional racism, and a slap in the face to black officers whose diet of racist experiences forms the core of the report.

The Prison Service's policies are indeed well written, comprehensive and well intentioned. What the report demonstrates is the enormous difficulty of translating those ideals into practice and changing the culture of an almost exclusively white and racist institution.

It also seeks to demonstrate that there is no clear rationale behind ethnic minority recruitment drives, and that there are a number of practical steps which could be taken immediately to show the Prison Service's commitment to anti-racism.

Not least among these is categorising racist behaviour as a disciplinary offence; introducing multiracial selection and promotion boards; and ensuring that race relations training, upon which so much of the service's attempts to combat racism relies, is carried out by qualified and experienced specialist trainers.

Implementing anti-racist strategies is a long-term, complex but essential task. The starting point is to admit and accept the entrenched nature of the problem.

Yours faithfully,

ROBIN ALFRED

London, E8

1 August

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