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Improving race relations in prisons: what works?

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  • Criminology


Prison statistics have shown for a considerable period of time that people from black and minority ethnic groups (BMEs) are over-represented in the prison population (Home Office Statistical Bulletin 21/94). The Prison Service must therefore manage a population in which issues of discrimination against and between prisoners will occur. Although the Prison Service has had a race relations policy for 18 years, until now, there has been no clear evidence of how prisons have implemented these initiatives on the ground to reduce levels of discrimination against prisoners. Over the last 18 years, the Prison Service has revised its race relations policy several times. The latest Prison Service Order on Race Relations was published in 1997, (PSO 2800), the Prison Service Race Relations Group (PSRRG) was established in 1998, and initiatives such as RESPOND and RESPECT have now been implemented (see Clements, 2002 for a summary of recent initiatives). Until now, the main focus has been on the diversity agenda for prison staff, rather than prisoners’ experiences (Clements, 2002). However, in 1999, the Prison Service, on the recommendation of PSRRG, commissioned this research to measure to what extent discrimination against BME prisoners could be reduced and to identify the process by which this is best achieved. The results reported here outline the main findings from this pilot action research programme carried out in three prisons in the North West of England between the end of 1999 and mid-2001.

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