Cuts to prison officer numbers could be worsening Muslim prisoners’ treatment in jail, a report has warned.
The report uncovered stark racial disparities in the treatment of prisoners. A total of 40% of Muslim inmates said they had been restrained, put in segregation and deprived of certain privileges because of alleged misconduct in the last six months, compared with 28% of other inmates.
Among black prisoners, 40% of black prisoners had suffered the same compared with 21% of white inmates.
Black Muslim prisoners were four times as likely to have suffered this.
In the report, by race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust and the University of Greenwich, the authors say prison officer cuts has worsened these prisoners’ experiences.
The cuts means they can only provide basic supervision, have less time for cultural awareness or unconscious bias training, the report argues, adding the extra challenge of having fewer, less experienced prison officers can foster “poor prisoner– staff relationships based misunderstanding, mutual mistrust and suspicion”.
Since 2010, the number of prison officers has fallen by around 5,000 in England and Wales, leaving around 15,000.
Muslim prisoners described to the report authors the type of overt and subtle discrimination they faced in prisons.
“I was carrying a bunch of DVDs to the mosque, when a prison officer says to me, “Are you carrying a bomb in that box?” one Black Muslim prisoner, jailed in a Category B prison, said.
Another Black Muslim prisoner said: “With staff, we have to speak loudly and raise our voices, otherwise no one pays attention. When we do that, then we are perceived as aggressive.”
The report also found nearly a third - 29% - of Muslim prisoners had neither a job or nor place on any education course, compared with 17% of Christian inmates.
The report urges the Government to step up efforts to meet its goal of recruiting 2,500 more prison officers to make up for the loss of more experienced ones.
It also advocates prison staff should take training in unconscious bias and cultural awareness, as well as mental health, and such courses should not be restricted to online.
Dr Zubaida Haque, research associate at the Runnymede Trust and co-author of the report, said: “When an offender goes to prison they lose their liberty to be in society, but that should not mean that they lose their rights, especially in relation to personal safety.
“We found that issues of equality and decency have become lost as a result of far-reaching staff cuts.”
“If the government quickly reverse staff cuts this will have a positive impact on mental health, suicides and disproportionality in prisons.
“But cultural awareness & unconscious bias training for prison officers is also critical in order to address the negative stereotypes and everyday racism that BME prisoners experience.”
The Government committed to recruiting more BME prison officers in its response to its own race disparity audit last week, which laid bare Britain’s starkest racial inequalities.
The Runnymede Trust estimates four times as many BME prison officers to reflect the prison population.
The report surveyed more than 340 inmates across four prisons. It comes amid concerns about why the Muslim prison population has more than doubled to 13,200 since 2002.
It means Muslims are 15% of all prisoners but 5% of the British population.
The Ministry of Justice had not responded to requests for comment as this article went live.