Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic Prisoners

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities are over-represented in the penal system and are known to have much poorer outcomes than their white counterparts. Over a quarter (27%) of the prison population, 21,537 people, are from a minority ethnic group compared to 14% of the general population. If the prison population reflected the ethnic make-up of England and Wales there would be 9,000 fewer people in prison. The economic cost of BAME over-representation is estimated to be £234m a year. (PRT Factfile, Winter 2022)

BAME prisoners are not a homogenous group and can have varied experiences and outcomes. However, there is a clear, direct, association between ethnic minority group and the odds of receiving a custodial sentence. Black people are 53%, Asian 55%, and other ethnic minority groups 81% more likely to be sent to prison for an indictable offence at the Crown Court, even when factoring in higher not-guilty plea rates. Black and Asian people in prison are also more likely to be serving longer sentences than other groups, and will serve a greater proportion of their sentence in custody. 17% of people in prison on a life sentence identify as Black, and 8% as Asian. 15% of people serving a determinate sentence of over 20 years identify as Black, and 12% as Asian. (PRT Factfile, Winter 2022)

Although disproportionate societal inequalities outside of the criminal justice system contribute to this overrepresentation, once convicted and sentenced, BAME prisoners continue to face discrimination and racism. The Lammy Review (2017) found that BAME prisoners were treated unfairly and reported higher rates of victimization by prison staff, were less likely to report having a prison job or to participate in offender behavior programmes and were less likely to spend 10 hours outside of their cell on weekdays. How prisoners are treated whilst in prison and the extent to which they believe they have been treated unfairly affects the likelihood of reoffending on release. ‘Those who carry around a sense of injustice are more likely to rebel against prison regimes, rather than start on the road to a life without offending.’ (Lammy Review)

The same is true for BAME women prisoners. Towards Racial Equality, an April 2022 study by Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA) and Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB), looked at the lived experiences of BAME women in prison and found, ‘distressing incidents of racism and direct discrimination, which in some cases involved prison staff. This included the use of racist language, name calling, racial tropes and stereotyping.’ The study also highlighted indirect discrimination and unfair treatment in matters of adjudications and Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL).

PAS is able to assist BAME prisoners who feel they have suffered prejudice or discrimination whilst in prison, including racially motivated strip searches, visitors being racially harassed and the use of derogatory names and threats by prison staff. Referencing protections in the Human Rights Act 1998 and The Equality Act 2010, we help BAME prisoners transfer away from racially-motivated persecution or assault, pursue redress when they are accused unjustly or placed on report, and advocate for them to be able to practice the basic tenets of any religion they may follow.  In 2021-22, BAME prisoners made up 38% of callers to our Advice Line. 

PAS Information Sheet