Letter: Prison Service is fighting racism

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The Independent Online
Sir: I and many of my colleagues in the Prison Service were dismayed by your coverage (27 July) of Robin Alfred's report, Black Workers in the Prison Service, published on Monday by the Prison Reform Trust. You seem to have taken the PRT's thoroughly misleading press notice quite uncritically. Of course, race relations in the Prison Service, as in many other organisations, need to be improved: but there is no recognition at all in your article of the strenuous efforts the Prison Service has made. In fact, in his foreword to the report, the PRT's director, Stephen Shaw, says:

Many of the initiatives which the Prison Service has taken in the area of race and race relations are a model - not just for the rest of the criminal justice system but all employers in the public and private sectors alike.

PRT described in similar terms our Race Relations Manual, which we brought in well over a year ago as one of a number of initiatives to demonstrate our determination to eliminate discrimination - for example, our campaign to attract ethnic minority staff, which includes some 300 visits to local communities. This initiative is increasingly successful: around 3,400 applicants this year compared with 840 four years ago. And 98 per cent of our ethnic minority recruits between 1989 and 1991 are still in the service.

Of course, there is more to do: but views as negative as those you express deny progress made and risk harming not only our recruitment efforts but also staff confidence in policies that have been commended as models.

There could still be individual instances of racial discrimination, but we are in as good a position as any organisation to deal with them if and when they arise. Our race relations policy statement is not just a set of fine words - we have the policies and structures in place to turn them into reality.

And that is what we are committed to doing.

Yours sincerely,


Director, Personnel and Finance

HM Prison Service

London, SW1

27 July