26% of the prison population, 22,683 people, are from a minority ethnic group.

If our prison population reflected the make-up of England and Wale s, we would have over 9,000 fewer people in prison—the equivalent of 12 average-sized prisons.

The economic cost of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) over-representation in our prison system is estimated to be £234 million a year.

Analysis conducted for the Lammy Review found a clear direct association between ethnic group and the odds of receiving a custodial sentence. With black people 53%, Asian 55%, and other ethnic groups 81% more likely to be sent to prison for an indictable offence at the Crown Court, even when factoring in higher not-guilty plea rates.

Black men are 26% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody.
They are also nearly 60% more likely to plead not guilty.

latest news and publications

The prison service has “regressed” in its efforts to tackle racial inequality, a leading expert on equality and diversity in the criminal justice system has warned.

Writing in the latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefing Prison Factfile, Beverley Thompson OBE, a former senior civil servant and Race Equality Advisor (2004 – 2009) at HM Prison Service, says that “many in the prison service have either lost commitment and direction from their leadership or their organisational expertise and energy is depleted—seeking comfort instead from the dangerous mantra that ‘race has been done’.”

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Commenting on the publication of today’s (28 October) report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons on the experiences of rehabilitation and release planning amongst minority ethnic prisoners, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This is a very thorough, scrupulously evidenced, authoritative report. It shows yet again that you get a worse deal from our criminal justice system if you’re from an ethnic minority. The inspectorate’s main finding is that people from BME groups experience discrimination, but most prison staff do not see it. As the report rightly highlights, practical solutions begin with first, acknowledging the problem; and secondly, involving the people most affected in putting it right, learning from their experience rather than dismissing it.

“The contrast between this devastatingly honest report and the government’s approach to reform couldn’t be more stark. Over and over again, the government’s equality assessments show that its proposals for criminal justice reform are likely to have discriminatory impacts—notably in the recent White Paper on sentencing. But these are always accepted as a price worth paying for some other objective. It’s hardly surprising that trust in the system amongst minority communities is so low.”

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EQUAL—a National Independent Advisory Group that works collaboratively to address the poorer outcomes experienced by BAME and Muslim people in the criminal justice system—has written to prisons minister Lucy Frazer today to express its concerns about the roll out of PAVA incapacitant spray.

The letter highlights the inadequacy of current safeguards to prevent the disproportionate use of PAVA against against BAME people in prison, as well as the persistent, unexplained, problem of racially disproportionate use of force in prisons.

Click here to read a copy of the letter.

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The Prison Reform Trust is delighted to be one of two charities that Uber has chosen to support for their work in promoting equality and social justice. We are pleased to be receiving this recognition from Uber alongside the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. The award of £20,000 will support our work on the Prisoner Policy Network, with a specific focus on helping develop the skills of people within BAME communities in prisons to contribute to policy development and advocacy. Uber has written a blog about the award on its website which you can read by clicking here.

Commenting, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“We’re delighted to have this new relationship with Uber. For many people, prisoners are out of sight and out of mind. They may not feel much sympathy for them. But something is seriously wrong when our prisons are disproportionately filled by people of colour, people denied an education and people suffering mental ill health. We all have an interest in prisons becoming places where people start to build themselves a better future. This support will help us to help prisoners themselves make the case for reform, and to change prisons from within.”

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Trust highlights urgent concerns over impact of PAVA spray on BAME prisoners and potential spread of Covid-19

The Prison Reform Trust has issued an urgent call for the government to reverse its decision to roll out PAVA spray to all staff trained in its use in prisons on the adult male closed estate.

The government’s unexpected decision, which was made public in a letter to stakeholders on 18 May, goes against a previous commitment made in April to pause the roll out of the controversial weapon in prisons for three months as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a letter to the prisons minister Lucy Frazer published today (Saturday 13 June), the Trust highlights concerns regarding the disproportionate impact of the roll out on the 27% of prisoners from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, and the potential risk of contributing to the spread of Covid-19 in prisons.

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You can also find out more about our work on PAVA over the last two years by clicking here.

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The Prison Reform Trust has co-signed a letter to CEO of HM Prison and Probation Service, Dr Jo Farrar today, calling for practical and visible action to tackle the discrimination that many people from minority communities are experiencing and have experienced for many years.

The letter, sent as part of PRT's membership of the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3) Special Interest Group on Covid-19, includes a briefing prepared by a small group of BAME led organisations at the request of the group. It makes a series of practical suggestions for how the recovery process in prisons and probation can meet its obligations to people from minority communities who are so disproportionately disadvantaged in our current criminal justice system.

The task of eradicating discrimination based on race and ethnicity belongs to all of us. It requires leadership from those who hold power and influence now, not just those from minority communities who have for so long struggled to fill those positions or command that influence. They, and the organisations that know them best, are looking for evidence that they have been heard.

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Following the publication of the Ministry of Justice report, Tackling racial disparity in the criminal justice system: 2020 in February this year, the HMPPS External Advice and Scrutiny Panel (EASP)—established following David Lammy's independent review in 2017—wrote to raise its concerns that it had been wrongly represented.

The report did not make clear that the EASP continued to have concerns that safeguards to address racially disproportionate outcomes in use of force were inadequate, and that they were very likely to persist in the use of PAVA incapacitant spray. 

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In response to the recent government announcements on a review of sentencingbuilding 10,000 additional prison places; and further investment in prison security, the Prison Reform Trust has written three separate letters seeking urgent clarification in order to assist our and wider public understanding.

We have written to:

  1. Robert Buckland—regarding the announcement of 10,000 additional prison places

  2. Richard Heaton—seeking clarification on the announcement of a review of sentencing

  3. Jo Farrar—about the announcement of £100m investment for additional prison security

Because of the public interest created by the announcements and the lack of opportunity for debate, we are publishing these letters and will publish the responses once they have been received.

You can read our response to the original announcements by clicking here.

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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There were more than 140,000 admissions into prison in England and Wales in 2017—the highest number in western Europe, according to a new report published today (24 June 2019) by the Prison Reform Trust.

The report Prison: the facts, reveals that, despite the number falling in recent years, England and Wales still have over 40,000 more admissions to prison than Germany, the second-highest—which has a significantly larger national population.

The rate of prison admissions, which accounts for the effects of differences in national populations, shows that England and Wales have a rate approximately three times that of Italy and Spain, and almost twice as high as Germany, with 238 prison admissions for every 100,000 people.

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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The Prison Reform Trust and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, along with a coalition of organisations working with children and young people in the criminal justice system, have written a letter published in today’s Times opposing the government’s proposed knife crime prevention orders. A copy of the letter and a list of signatures is below.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence has also criticised the proposals, in an article in the Times which also highlights today’s letter.

The bill is being debated in the House of Lords today. The Prison Reform Trust and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice have published a briefing for Peers urging them to oppose the new orders and highlighting other key amendments.

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Black and mixed ethnicity women are more than twice as likely as white women in the general population to be arrested, according to a new report published today (31 August) by the Prison Reform Trust.

Black women are also more likely than other women to be remanded or sentenced to custody, and are 25% more likely than white women to receive a custodial sentence following a conviction, the report reveals. Black, Asian and minority ethnic women make up 11.9% of the women’s population in England and Wales, but account for 18% of the women’s prison population.

The Lammy Review, chaired by David Lammy MP, is an independent review commissioned by the Prime Minister of the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system.

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