Not enough done to understand rehabilitation needs of minority ethnic prisoners

Read the report: Minority ethnic prisoners’ experiences of rehabilitation and release planning

There is considerable gap between black and minority ethnic (BME) prisoners and prison staff in their understanding of how ethnicity influences rehabilitation and resettlement, a review by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMI Prisons) has found.

About a third of BME prisoners interviewed for the review felt that their ethnicity had a significant impact on their experience but almost no staff felt the same. BME prisoners referred to a lack of understanding about their cultural backgrounds and differences, the lack of diversity of prison staff, previous experiences of discrimination in prison and unfair access to jobs.

Inspectors concluded that staff had insufficient understanding of BME prisoners’ distinct experiences of prison life, and how ethnicity might influence their engagement with rehabilitative work. Not enough was being done to improve communication with BME prisoners.

Publishing the report – Minority ethnic prisoners’ experiences of rehabilitation and release planning – Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “Increasing mutual understanding of this problem is a critical task if the relationships which form the bedrock of rehabilitative culture are to be nurtured.

“We found that the concept of rehabilitative culture currently held little meaning for BME prisoners, even where staff thought that this was what they were delivering.”

The report urges a “reimagining of what rehabilitative culture means and how it can be better communicated and delivered, as well as a frank assessment of how experiences of prejudice and discrimination affect the promise of rehabilitative culture for minority ethnic prisoners.”

Black and minority ethnic groups are greatly overrepresented in the prison population. Mr Clarke said: “People from a BME background have less trust in the criminal justice system than white people and worse perceptions of the system’s fairness.

“Developing a greater understanding of the perceptions of prisoners and disproportionalities in the prison system, and finding ways to address them, is an important task for those working in prisons. This thematic review is a small but original contribution to that effort.

“Little has been written on BME prisoners’ experiences of offender management and resettlement services, and there is very limited work on the increasingly influential concept of ‘rehabilitative culture’ and the degree to which efforts to achieve it have taken account of the specific experiences of BME prisoners.”

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) prisoners are also greatly overrepresented in prisons while, Mr Clarke added, “distinctive needs they may have are not well identified or addressed. The experiences of this group are therefore included in this review, although, as is made clear, poor identification of GRT prisoners limited the number that we were able to interview.”

Mr Clarke underlined the importance of understanding the complexity of terms such as ‘black and minority ethnic’ in future research. “Throughout this project, we have been acutely aware that there are considerable problems with using collective terms such as ‘black and minority ethnic’. Such descriptions imply a false homogeneity of experience between culturally different minority groups and will always understate the uniqueness of each of them.

“It is important to state at the outset that we consider this review a starting point for more sophisticated and granular analyses that will be required to help improve our understanding of the complexity of human experiences and identities. The lack of a sufficiently wide range of data held by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) relating to both participation and outcomes in activities, rehabilitative work and release planning became increasingly clear during our fieldwork. Addressing this problem is a challenge that we set out to HMPPS in our recommendations.”

In conclusion, Mr Clarke added:

“This thematic review identifies positive practices which can provide direction for system-wide reforms. For example, the fact that minority ethnic women at HMP New Hall felt included in the prison’s rehabilitative culture is worthy of further exploration. We also identify specific programmes and support for BME and GRT prisoners which were valued by prisoners and staff alike. Our findings demonstrate how specialist voluntary sector organisations can help BME and GRT prisoners to feel more included in rehabilitative work and to engage more effectively in pre-release processes.”

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Notes to editors

1. Read the report: Minority ethnic prisoners’ experiences of rehabilitation and release planning. This report was published on 28 October 2020.

2. HMI Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.

3. HMI Prisons regularly inspects prisons, young offender institutions, immigration removal centres, immigration short-term holding facilities and overseas escorts and court custody. We inspect police custody suites and Border Force customs custody jointly with HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and secure training centres jointly with Ofsted. By invitation, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons also carries out inspections of military detention facilities, prisons in Northern Ireland and some other overseas prisons and custodial institutions in jurisdictions with links to the UK.

4. HMI Prisons is a member of and coordinates the UK’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). The NPM was established under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It consists of 21 existing bodies throughout the UK, which are independent and have the right regularly to inspect all places of detention, and reports to the UN treaty body.

5. As of March 2020, 27% of prisoners were from a BME background, compared with only 13% of the general population. People who identify as ‘black’ are imprisoned at an even more disproportionate rate: they comprise only 3% of the general population but 13% of adult prisoners (UK Prison Population Statistics, 2020). In HMI Prisons prisoner surveys, BME prisoners consistently report worse experiences and outcomes than white prisoners across a wide range of indicators covering most areas of prison life. The Lammy Review (2017) drew extensively on HMI Prisons’ evidence.

6. Inspectors gathered a wide range of evidence from analysis of nearly 7,000 prisoner surveys and fieldwork in eight prisons. During the eight prison visits, they completed semi-structured interviews with 73 BME prisoners, nine GRT prisoners and 64 key prison staff and managers working in roles intended to support rehabilitation and release planning. They also undertook group interviews with prison managers in all establishments, attended some prisoner group meetings and spoke to some individual prisoners more informally about their experiences. We have identified individual ethnicities of prisoner interviewees throughout the report. Where the data were strong enough to compare experiences of different minority groups, we have done so; but where this was not the case, we have focused on reporting the collective experiences of BME or GRT prisoners.

7. Please contact John Steele at HMI Prisons on 07880 787452 if you would like more information.