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Report shows continuing discrimination for Black, Asian and minority ethnic women in prison

The Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA) and the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) have today published a three-part report that highlights the discrimination experienced by many minoritised women in prison.

Recommendations highlight the importance of collecting and interrogating data, ensuring there are dedicated resources to promote equality, and providing staff training to encourage understanding of diversity.

Surveys were carried out with over 260 Black, Asian, minority ethnic and foreign women in prison, as well as equality staff working in prisons, and IMB chairs and members with a specialist interest in equality outcomes.

A third of women who responded said their treatment by staff was poor or very poor; with over 40% of respondents saying they had experienced discrimination which included getting less access to employment within the prison. Black women recorded particularly negative experiences. Many respondents had little confidence in the system for reporting discrimination, in procedural fairness, or in staff understanding of cultural needs.

The report makes 13 recommendations for the Prison Service and the Ministry of Justice, to provide or improve:

  • Leadership on equality, including setting a positive culture;
  • More resource within prisons for equalities work;
  • Recruitment processes to increase diversity of staff;
  • Dedicated, trained staff to work on equality issues;
  • Collection of equalities data and action on the findings;
  • Specialist external scrutiny of prisoners’ discrimination claims;
  • Language accessibility for prisoners whose first language is not English.

In relation to IMBs, the project recommends additional training and support for Board members on equality issues as well as improving the diversity of Board members.

Dame Anne Owers, National Chair of the IMBs, welcomed the reports: “In spite of numerous reports highlighting disproportionality in the criminal justice system, and the specific challenges faced by women, positive change has been slow. These reports show that addressing racial and ethnic disadvantage needs to be a priority and I hope these recommendations will stimulate action at every level. IMBs can play a key role in monitoring and reporting on outcomes for women from diverse backgrounds and we are keen to learn from this research.”

Nina Champion, Director of the Criminal Justice Alliance said: “This ground-breaking project centres on the lived experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic women in prison – their accounts of direct and indirect racism and poor treatment are shocking and distressing. Even more upsetting is their sense of fatalism – they see this treatment as part of their everyday lives. The women lack trust and confidence in the complaints system, do not trust that they will be treated fairly and are often unaware of how prison monitors can help. There is an urgent need to address these issues nationally and locally and I hope to see our recommendations being implemented with haste.”