Rehabilitation needs of minority ethnic prisoners not understood, says Chief Inspector

By agency reporter
October 29, 2020

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.”

* Read Minority ethnic prisoners’ experiences of rehabilitation and release planning here

* HM Inspectorate of Prisons


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