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The problem of minority prisoners Essay

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The problem of minority prisoners has been high on agenda for several decades already. In this paper I will focus my attention on possible measures and remedies aimed at establishing bridges of understanding between minority prisoners and corrections. I have critically examined a significant number of authoritative sources regarding the issue and I’m going to evaluate the problems that exist in current situation with minority representatives in prison and advocate for the necessary policy change.

I shall note with regret that escalating tension between minority prisoners and the personnel is jeopardizing the rehabilitation of the convicts.

This problem is often but inadequately addressed by prison authorities. Let me bring some examples. In Pakistan, according to Shehar Bano Khan’s article entitled “’Ordeal’ of Minority Prisoners”, Christian prisoners suffered from the “bitter ordeal of discrimination”, and the’ “prison authorities’ ‘unbridled highhandedness and discriminatory behaviour’ has become a major personal safety concern…” (www.dawn.com/2004/08/29/nat16.htm)

I want to start enlisting methods of building bridges of understanding between minority prisoners and corrections by quoting the message of the Scottish Prison Service:

“The Prison Service is absolutely committed to ensuring race equality and delivery of good race relations in all aspects of our work.

We will ensure that race issues are addressed in all parts of our business – and promote race equality as a core standard and essential ingredient for running a successful prison.” (www.sps.gov.uk/home/reqs.pdf)

All Party Parliamentary Group for Further Education and Lifelong Learning in the report on prison education came to the following conclusion:

“Black and ethnic minority prisoners may have different learning needs and some requirement for different sites and modes of learning. For example there is a need for more culturally sensitive programmes for such prisoners – prisoners whose first language is not English will need different learning programmes.”


This should be a very serious concern in the prisons worldwide; this principle should be applied to any interaction between the staff and minority prisoners, let alone the educational process. The staff of the prison should always keep in mind that prisoners from different racial and ethnic background may require using different interaction models.

All the minority prisoners must have access to quality interpretation services; this is the first step to build the bridges of understanding in a literal sense. This may sound unrealistic for the moment but prison personnel should work towards the completion of this important goal.

Keeping in mind, that minority prisoners may be vulnerable and sensitive about some issues, it would be of great use organizing a special training session for prison staff concerning cultural and religious practices of minority prisoners serving their sentence in a specific institution.

The report entitled Implementing Race Equality in Prisons advices “to ensure effective training incorporating race equality issues…is developed and delivered to employees and contracted staff on the basis of learning need.” (www.cre.gov.uk/pdfs/PrisonsFI_action.pdf)

Basically, the question of religion is a separate topic. The prison personnel should be very attentive to this issue since religious disrespect may cause tension and confrontation. For centuries prisoners have been deprived of their right to religious practices because it was perceived as an effective way to demoralize them. Let’s remember the controversy over the religious discrimination of the prisoners in Guantanamo.

Shehar Bano Khan’s article also informs that in Pakistan, “discriminatory treatment of Christians and other minorities has become a regular feature…” with “janitorial work…assigned to the Christians only” and with “no preacher for them.” (www.dawn.com/2004/08/29/nat16.htm)

The prison personnel should ensure that every minority prisoners has an opportunity and facilities to practice his/her religion; spiritual literature should be supplied if necessary. The guard shouldn’t subject the convicts to discrimination due to their religious beliefs. The Race Equality Scheme being implemented by Scottish Prison Service states the same:

“Members of all religious groups have the same right to practice their faith. Arrangements should be made to give each group the same opportunities to do so.” (www.sps.gov.uk/home/reqs.pdf)

There’s much debate over the question of the religious practices in prisons. It’s widely recognized that “although prisoners retain the right to free exercise of religion, incarceration places some practical limits on this right,” as Mara Schneider informs in the article entitled “Splitting Hairs: Why Courts Uphold Prison Grooming Policies and Why They Should Not.” (Michigan Journal of Race & Law 2004)

 Therefore, the prison personnel should ensure religious freedom unless it’s incompatible with safety concerns.

The article by Jennifer Vogel entitled “ White Guard, Black Guard: Racism in Washington Continues” informs that “more than one third of the more than 14,000 state prison prisoners are of minority descent.” In the article the issue of violence against minority workers and prisoners is scrutinize. The author proposes a highly efficient measure to establish fair treatment of minority prisoners. She especially stresses the fact that “while 23 percent of prisoners are black, only 6 percent of DOC employees are black.” (www.prisonlegalnews.org/ban.htm)

Employing guards from minority background will provide a positive model of non-discrimination. Still, careful workplace control should be initiated. The offences of minority guards are reported and such practices lead to violence towards minority prisoners. This caused, according to Vogel’s article, “a frightening atmosphere where white guards refer to blacks as “coons” and worse; where minority prisoners are targeted for beatings; where black guards receive threats…”


We live in multiethnic societies. Until there is no equality and fair representation of minorities in staff we can’t speak of establishing efficient communication between the prisoners and the guards.

The report entitled Implementing Race Equality advices “to increase the proportion of staff from minority ethnic groups to achieve a representative workforce…” (www.cre.gov.uk/pdfs/PrisonsFI_action.pdf)

The statistical report entitled Ethnic Minorities: Crime and Criminal Justice states the following:

“Ethnic minorities are under-represented in the police, prison service, lay magistracy and at senior levels in all criminal justice agencies.”


The guards should never deprive prisoners of the use of any prison facilities. The Scottish Prison Service recommends the following:

“The range of facilities provided and opportunities offered to staff and prisoners, including jobs, should be responsive to the needs of ethnic and racial groups. All staff and prisoners should have equal access to those facilities and opportunities.” (www.sps.gov.uk/home/reqs.pdf)

The report entitled Implementing Race Equality in Prisons also supports this view by stating that the following should be proposed to all the prisoners on the equal basis:

“Facility licences enable eligible prisoners the chance to participate in; training, employment, educational and community service or for official purposes such as attending civil court proceedings.”


We must admit that the most efficient way of protecting minority prisoners’ right is launching a formal complaint. Numerous court cases were initiated on this issue. Therefore I would suggest informing both the prisoners and the guards about non-discrimination legal acts and policies as well as practical methods of protecting their rights. All the necessary support should be provided to the prisoners who want to defend their right.

Kimmett Edgar and Carol Martin interviewed the ethic minority representatives in the local prisons. Here’re their findings:

“32% said they had not experienced anything that warranted a complaint…36% of those who had experienced discrimination said that they had complained.”

The reasons for not complaining included that the prisoners “were frightened of reprisals from staff if they did complain,” or “believed it would be futile to complain,” or “they did not know how to complain.” (www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/rdsolr1104.pdf)

Ensuring transparency and efficiency of the complaint system should be the primary concern of the prison personnel.

An article reviewing The Black and Asian Prisoner’ s Guidebook and the Law attracts our attention to the fact that the basic rights of every person should be always respected:

“The Civil and Human Rights of ethnic minority prisoners systematically apply by colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion and religious beliefs.”


Legal Assistance Available to Minority Prisoners in Delaware, the most comprehensive study of possible models of legal assistance, points out a series of problems preventing the prisoners from minority background from receiving qualified legal protection. This list includes poor interpretation services, shortage of paralegal help, shortage of the advocates speaking the languages of ethnic minorities as well as shortage of public defenders and judges. The prison personnel should help the prisoners to overcome all this barriers and to obtained necessary legal help.

The report entitled Implementing Race Equality in Prisons stresses the importance of proper monitoring and surveying. This should include 1. Prisoner Ethnic Monitoring data outcomes, 2. Race Relations Management Audit score, 3. Substantiated/unsubstantiated racial incidents (prisoners/visitors), 4. Prisoner survey outcomes,5. Visitor survey outcomes. The report also proposes “to develop effective systems at national and establishment level to monitor progress on race equality ensuring compliance with…[the legislation]…and taking remedial action to address difficulties.” (www.cre.gov.uk/pdfs/PrisonsFI_action.pdf)

Laura May in her article entitled Action Needed over Race Relations at Jail, Report Finds states the following:

 “Black and ethnic minority inmates in a prison believe they have been marginalised but inspectors could find no evidence of direct discrimination…” (http://news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=1979788)

Proper monitoring should be in place to prevent such common situations.

Scottish Prison Service in the annual 2004 report indicated several important initiatives aimed at building bridges between minority prisoners and guards and establishing racial equality.

From my point of view, the most interesting of them were “development of closer links with a number of external organisations in the promotion and development of race equality within our Service,” “the introduction of a foreign language book rental scheme for prisoners,” “the continued development of our Race Relations Complaints system and monitoring from our national Race Relations Liaison Monitoring Group,” as well as “the development of Dietary Guidance in relation to ethnic minority catering throughout the estate.” (http://www.sps.gov.uk/keydocs/race_equality_reports/default.asp)

To sum up my paper, I would like to stress once more the importance of building bridges of understanding between the minority prisoners and corrections. The rights of the prisoners and non-discrimination should be the key principles in providing proper treatment of minority representatives.

There is a variety of measures aimed at ensuring equality in prisons ranging from staff training to monitoring. But I would like to stress that all these measures would work only if applied consistently and simultaneously.



  1. NATFHE Prison Education Submission to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Further Education and Lifelong Learning,  June 2004

Available: http://www.natfhe.org.uk/says/pubsfued.html

Last Accessed: 3 November 2004

  1. Shehar Bano Khan, “

Available: www.dawn.com/2004/08/29/nat16.htm

Last Accessed: 3 November 2004

  1. Jennifer Vogel, White Guard, Black Guard: Racism in Washington Continues, May, 1999

Available: www.prisonlegalnews.org/ban.htm

Last Accessed: 3 November 2004

  1. Mara R. Schneider, Splitting Hairs: Why Courts Uphold Prison Grooming Policies and Why They Should Not, Michigan Journal of Race & Law, Volume 9, Issue 2, Spring 2004
  2. Scottish Prison Service, Race Equality Scheme, 2000

Available: www.sps.gov.uk/home/reqs.pdf

Last Accessed: 3 November 2004

  1. Kimmett Edgar, Carol Martin, Perceptions of race and conflict: perspectives of minority ethnic prisoners and of prison officers, University of Oxford

Centre for Criminological Research, Home Office Online Report 11/04, 2004

Available: www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/rdsolr1104.pdf

Last Accessed: 3 November 2004

  1. Legal Assistance Available to Minority Prisoners in Delaware, 1989

Available: http://www.law.umaryland.edu/edocs/usccr/pdf%20files/Preservation%20Resources%20PDF/cr12as7z.pdf

Last Accessed: 3 November 2004

  1. Commission for Race Equality, HM Prison Service, Implementing Race Equality in Prisons, December 2003

Available: www.cre.gov.uk/pdfs/PrisonsFI_action.pdf

Last Accessed: 3 November 2004

  1. Scottish Prison Service, Race Equality Annual Report, 2004

Available: http://www.sps.gov.uk/keydocs/race_equality_reports/default.asp

Last Accessed: 3 November 2004

  1. The Ethnic Minority Press, The Black and Asian Prisoner’ s Guidebook and the Law, A review, 19 August 2002

Available: http://www.blink.org.uk/pdescription.asp?key=1095&grp=16

Last Accessed: 3 November 2004

  • Ethnic Minorities: Crime and Criminal Justice

Available: http://www.rouncefield.homestead.com/files/a_soc_dev_35.htm

Last Accessed: 3 November 2004

  1. Laura May, Scottman.com, Action Needed over Race Relations at Jail, Report Finds, 25 September 2003

Available: http://news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=1979788

Last Accessed: 3 November 2004


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