Racist prisons

The disproportionate imprisoning of young black people is an inevitable result of a criminal justice system inbuilt at every level with racist attitudes and an antipathy towards the black working class community. The facts speak for themselves; although black people make up just 2% of the total population in England and Wales, the most recent statistics available from the Home Office (February 2003) show that 16% of male and 25% of female prisoners are black.

For many black prisoners life inside is a continuation of the racist treatment they have experienced at the hands of the police and courts, with the very worst treatment reserved for those who possess the courage and determination to resist and openly complain about the racist behaviour of those managing and running the prisons. Their experience is of frequent physical brutality, long stays in solitary confinement and endless transfers, usually to prisons geographically remote and inaccessible to friends and family.

The predicament of Sean Higgins typifies the sort of treatment dished out to black prisoners perceived by staff as ‘uppity’ and unreasonably proud. Sean’s treatment was highlighted in autumn 2005 when ex-prisoner John McGranaghan (who himself spent over a decade in prison for crimes he did not commit before being released on appeal in 1991) contacted the organisation ‘Black Britain’ to tell them that Sean, then in Frankland prison, was being brutalised by prison officers and feared for his life.

Sean said that in 1999 in Swaleside Prison several officers entered his cell, subjected him to racist verbal abuse and then physically attacked him, during which they tried to tie a home-made noose around his neck in a mock lynching fashion.

In the notorious Full Sutton segregation unit he was badly beaten after complaining about racist abuse. He was then charged with assaulting prison staff, who required a justification for ‘restraining’ him so violently. He was subsequently acquitted at Hull Crown Court. The jury found that he had acted in lawful self-defence when attacked by prison staff. When Sean again complained of racist abuse whilst in the segregation unit at Frankland in September 2005 he was systematically beaten up by staff, who then inevitably made a counter allegation that he had attacked them without the slightest provocation. Sean is now pursuing a civil action against the Prison Service for damages.

In December 2005 Sean was transferred to Manchester prison from HMP Wakefield and immediately encountered hostility and victimisation.

Just before Christmas staff engineered a confrontation and then moved Sean to the prison’s punishment unit. Sean continued to complain about his treatment and claimed it was motivated by straight forward racism. One afternoon in the first week of January a gang of staff entered Sean’s cell, racially abused and subjected him to a sustained physical assault that left him battered and bleeding. Medical reports and photographs attest to his injuries.

Sean’s treatment typifies the reaction of the prison system to black prisoners who defiantly resist the racism that permeates the prison system from the top to bottom. Please show support for Sean Higgins by writing letters to The Governor, HMP Manchester, Southall Street, Manchester M60 9AH and Philip Wheatley. Director General of the Prison Service, Cleland House, Page Street, London SW1P 4LN.
John Bowden
HMP Saughton

FRFI supporters joined an afternoon vigil outside HMP and YOI Styal, Cheshire, on 18 January 2006, to mark the third anniversary of the death of Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, who died in January 2003 aged 18. Sarah was the youngest of six women to die in a 12-month period at Styal. The cause of her death was anti-depressant prescription drug poisoning. At the inquest in January 2005 the jury delivered a scathing indictment of the prison authorities and said a ‘failure in the duty of care’ had contributed to her death, and there had been ‘avoidable delays’ in summoning the ambulance. The inquest heard shocking evidence that on the day Sarah died, staff (including a nurse) left her unattended in a cell in the segregation block and locked the door, despite knowing she had taken an overdose. Deborah Coles, Co-Director of campaign group INQUEST has referred to the Styal deaths as ‘a clear example of corporate manslaughter’. Sarah’s mother, Pauline Campbell, told FRFI: ‘Three years after the death of my only child, there is still no formal acceptance by the Home Office that they have a responsibility for Sarah’s death.’

FRFI 189 February / March 2006

 

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