The urgent need for change in prisons after survey finds women face high levels of racism by staff

There is an urgent call for change in prisons after hundreds of Black, Asian, minority ethnic and foreign women reported high levels of racism and discrimination by staff.

A nationwide survey has found forty per cent of women in prison had been discriminated against while behind bars.

For poet 'Lady Unchained' that is all too familiar. She was sentenced to two and a half years in prison at the age of 21.

Now, she uses poetry to detail her journey through the criminal justice system. Lady Unchained said: "I was charged with GBH section 18, I was actually involved in a nightclub fight when my older sister was attacked by three women.

"My writing became something for me to just really make sure that mentally I was okay because what people don't often talk about is the sucidal thoughts that come in when you start to realise this is where your life is now." Fast forward 13 years - she still has vivid memories of the racism she encountered from prison staff.

Lady Unchained added: "That's when I realised, racism really does exist, but it only exists in prison, that's how I saw it because I hadn't lived through survival racism before prison.

"There were simple things of comments when I would complain about the portions of the meal and the officer said to me 'Do you actaully get three meals a day where you come from'?" And the discrimination she faced isn't uncommon. A survey was conducted by the Criminal Justice Alliance and Independent Monitoring Boards with over 260 Black, Asian, minority ethnic and foreign women in prison.

Credit: ITV News

It found that:

  • 40% of women who responded said they had been discriminated against in prison

  • More than a third (34%) saying their treatment by staff was poor or very poor

  • A third again (30%) said they had less access to employment

  • Of those women who'd experienced discrimination, more than two thirds (67%) hadn't reported it.

The CJA says the survey has given a voice to the voiceless. Nina Champion, director at Criminal Justice Alliance, said: "I think it really shows us that ethnic minority women in prison in 2022 are really being held back from progressing.

"They are not getting the same equal access to employment and education opportunities as others. They are experiencing daily incidents of racism, of micro aggressions, that their having to deal with, that is compounding trauma that they've already got from the past."

It is a problem that must be tackled head on, according to the CEO of Agenda, an organisation that aims to improve the lives of women in the criminal justice system. Indy Cross said: "Let's co-produce, co-design interventions with black women, Asian women, minoritised women, let's ensure we're recruiting black women, Asian women, minoritised women as well into the prison system, that's the only way we can tackle it, we need to act on this now."

Indy Cross says now is the time to act to help women in the criminal justice system. Credit: ITV News

A report on the survey made 13 recommendations for the Prison Service and the Ministry of Justice, to provide or improve on. In a statement, they said: "We are working hard across government to tackle the deep-rooted causes of racial disparity in the justice system.

"Racism and discrimination are not tolerated in our jails and we take strong action to ensure the fair, equal and decent treatment of all prisoners and staff."

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