Racism and sexism in women’s imprisonment

PRT Racism and sexism

In 2017, the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) published Counted Out, a report on the disparities and inequalities for Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women within the prison system. The findings paint a picture of institutional racism and sexism.

The report was submitted to the Lammy Review prior to its final launch in September 2017. Commissioned in 2016 by former Prime Minister David Cameron and led by Tottenham Labour MP David Lammy, that review was tasked with collecting data and providing recommendations on the treatment of and outcomes for BAME people in the criminal justice system.

These are only some of many reports in the last few years which depict the realities for BAME people under a racist, sexist and imperialist British state.

Systematic racism is clear even at a glance at who is in prison: the report found that ‘Black women make up 3% of the total female population in England and Wales but in a snapshot prison population make up 8.9%’. There are notable local and regional variations, for example, London’s population has 9.8% of black women but 20.7% of women who in prison for the first time are black. Black and mixed ethnicity women are more than twice as likely as white women to be arrested. Black women are 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.

This racism also creates a hostile environment which forces migrants and minority ethnic women into fear and isolation.

Prison records state 0.3% of women in custody identify as of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) origins. Yet prison inspectorate surveys shows higher numbers of 9-10%. This reflects the fear GRT women face in being discriminated against if they identify their origins to prison staff.

Speaking to the Muslim Women in Prison project, the report found that many foreign national and BAME women, especially elderly women, have to rely on other prisoners to interpret for and assist them. Such arrangements are usually informal and can result in women being relocated or discharged without warning and or any provisions to take their place.

The government response to the Lammy Review has been to set up a Race and Ethnicity Board, chaired by the Mark Sweeney, the Director General for Justice and Courts Policy at the Ministry of Justice. This board has not committed itself to implementing any of the proposals set out in the various reports and has so far only said that it will do more of what the Lammy Review has already done, ie collect data, as opposed to taking urgently needed action.

Like all BAME women, those in prison will continue to face double oppression unless we speak out and resist.

Nica Evans

For a full copy of the report go to: www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/PressPolicy/News/vw/1/ItemID/465


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