Ministry of Justice advert banned for ‘racist’ stereotype of black prisoner


A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) advert has been banned for depicting a smiling, white prison guard talking to an anonymous black prisoner wearing an afro-comb in his hair.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled the advert, used as part of a recruitment campaign for prison guards, was likely to cause serious offence by reinforcing negative stereotypes about black men and banned it from further use.

The paid-for Facebook ad for the Ministry of Justice’s “Prison Jobs” scheme featured an image of a white prison officer talking to a black inmate, with superimposed text that stated, “Become A Prison Officer. One career, many roles”.

A caption at the bottom read: “We’re key workers, problem solvers, life changers. Join us to perform a vital role at HMP Wormwood Scrubs”.

One user complained about the Facebook advert to the ASA believing the ad perpetuated negative ethnic stereotypes “likely to cause serious offence”.

A general view of HMP Wormwood Scrubs (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)
A general view of HMP Wormwood Scrubs (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)

The MoJ, confirmed they would appeal the ban, adding the advert featured real officers and prisoners so did not “portray” a black man as a criminal but rather depicted a real person who had been convicted of an offence.

In their ruling the ASA said: “The ad showed a real white prison officer and black male inmate in a prison setting.

“The inmate wore an afro pick comb in his hair – a tool we understood was uniquely associated with black culture.

“The ad made reference to prison officers being ‘problem solvers’ and ‘life changers’, and we considered it drew a link between the officer depicted and those attributes. On the other hand, the black prisoner was depicted as a criminal, without those positive attributes.”

They added: “We considered the ad did not suggest that all black men were criminals or were more likely to be so than any other ethnic group.

“However, it showed an imbalanced power dynamic, with a smiling white prison officer, described as a ‘life changer’, and a black, institutionalised prisoner.

“We considered the ad’s focus on the positive qualities of the white prison officer and negative casting of the black prisoner was likely to be seen as perpetuating a negative racial stereotype.

“We concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious offence on the grounds of race by reinforcing negative stereotypes about black men.”

The ASA ruled that the ad must not appear again, adding: “We told the Ministry of Justice to ensure they avoided causing serious offence on the grounds of race.”

An MoJ spokeswoman said: “We will be appealing this ruling.

“This was one of a wide range of different images used in an advertising campaign featuring real situations in prison – which is an essential part of attracting the right candidates.”