Complaints of prison racism rise among staff and inmates

Prison officers are more than twice as likely to be reported for racism than prisoners, according to new government figures showing alleged racist incidents across the prison estate have risen by a quarter.

Ministry of Justice complaints data reveals a steady rise in alleged racist incidents at the 139 prisons in England and Wales. The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, are likely to add to concern over extremism in prisons. They come as prison staff express concern over growing sympathy for the British National party among colleagues.

The figures show there have been 46,000 complaints by staff and p­risoners that were categorised as racist since 2006. By 2008 there were 14,191 co­mplaints about alleged racism in prisons, a 25% increase on 2006, when there were 11,389.

A spokesperson for the justice department said reported incidents had increased as a result of complaint forms becoming more accessible and confidential, and stressed that few of the reported incidents consisted of serious allegations. However the improvement in availability in complaints forms began nine years ago, long before the recent surge in complaints.

A source with knowledge of the data said the fact a number of private prisons started to be included in the data in 2008 could also go some way to explaining the recent surge in reports of racism.

Most attention recently has been focused on concerns among security officials about potential extremism among the estimated 8,000 Muslim inmates in England and Wales. In October Charles Farr, head of the Home Office’s office of security and counter-terrorism, told MPs that Muslim prisoners were “a very significant group” at risk of being “radicalised”.

He said his unit had helped the prison service develop a counter-terrorist and intelligence programme. However the latest figures will raise concern over racial tensions in prison. They show that while alleged racism between prisoners has actually decreased between 2006 and 2008, so-called alleged racism by prisoners against staff – the most common complaint – increased by 39%. Similarly, “staff on staff” racism has increased by 37% in the same period, while “staff on prisoner” racism also increased, by 13%.

However, the data shows that, proportionally, prison staff are almost twice as likely to commit a racist incident against a prisoner than vice versa. On average, the figures equate to one in seven staff members receiving complaints from prisoners about racism. In contrast, one in 16 prisoners were on average accused of racism toward staff.

Colin Moses, the national chair of the Prison Officers Association, said the ­figures were worrying and expressed concern about racist tendencies among a minority of staff. Presently, prison staff are not permitted to be members of the union and BNP. “[Officers] are coming forward and saying they openly want to be members of the BNP. The national offender management service has forgotten that prison can become a feeding ground for white nationalists as well as Islamic extremists.”

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