Page last updated at 09:53 GMT, Saturday, 21 March 2009

Muslim inmates in racism claims

By Perminder Khatkar
BBC Asian Network

Despite claims that the prison service has been making progress on tackling racial inequality in prisons, Muslim inmates at a young offenders institute have told the BBC that they have been verbally abused by staff.

Glen Parva sign
Constructed in the 1970s, Glen Parva has always held young offenders

In an interview with a documentary team at the Glen Parva institute in Leicestershire, one man said: "I've been called a terrorist just because I grow my beard... or stupid Muslim.

"I had so many problems in this joint I can't tell you. This is the worst prison I've been too... more racist than others."

Mo (not his real name) was the most outspoken of the group of four Muslim prisoners we were allowed to interview.

Glen Parva is his fourth young offenders prison over the past three years and according to him it is the worst. He put this down partly to the fact it was "out in the sticks" and "they didn't have that many Asians".

He said there was racism from the prison staff and that he'd been "picked out purposely... not just once, twice… they judge me differently". He now had his own solicitor to take up his case, he said.

Glen Parva prides itself on its complaints procedure for dealing with allegations of racism, and Mo's blunt allegations were clearly a surprise to the prison managers who were sitting in on our interview.

The deputy governor hurriedly scribbled down some notes and a paper was passed to the head of diversity.

When the governor's around, officers are on best behaviour
Mohammad, Glen Parva inmate

Also present at our interview with the group of four prisoners were a prison officer, a Ministry of Justice press officer and the chaplain.

Another prisoner, Mohammad, said the prison staff, when they were letting them out of the cells, would say "it's bhangra boys coming".

"Other days they'd say 'terrorist' or 'al-Qaeda'."

Disaffection

The complaints echo critical reports published by the prison inspectorate, citing similar racial taunts at other prisons, even though only a small minority of the 4,000 British Asian Muslims in prison are serving time for terrorism-related offences.

Last October, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, warned of a growing "disaffection and distance" between Muslim inmates and the prison system following a report about Whitemoor high security jail in Cambridgeshire.

She said the growing situation "urgently" needed addressing, but her annual report in January said efforts to tackle racial inequality were improving.

Glen Parva is the largest young offenders institute in Europe and of 800 prisoners, 46 are British Asians, all but two of them Muslim.

The four inmates we interviewed were in for a variety of offences - robbery, drugs, firearms and actual bodily harm.

Confidentiality

The prison governor, Nigel Smith, has 21 years' experience in the prison service and 18 months in the job at Glen Parva. Every racist case reported is confidentially dealt with by him and the head of diversity.

"It's important the victim feels safe and satisfied with the outcome whatever that might be."

Prisoners are encouraged to report incidents of a racist nature and all complaints received are fully investigated
Glen Parva statement
There has been a steady increase in the number of racist complaints at the prison. Mr Smith puts this down to the prisoners feeling they can report any racist incidents.

All prisons in England and Wales have a procedure in place to tackle racism and any racist incidents because of the Zahid Mubarek case in 2000.

Zahid, a 19-year-old Muslim, was put in a cell at Feltham Young Offenders Institute with a racist inmate who killed him.

"The prison service has taken a big leap forward since the Zahid Mubarek inquiry. We've totally reviewed the way we manage and deal with diversity and race relations in prison," Mr Smith said.

'Their word against ours'

But the prisoners we spoke to said they thought the complaints procedure was a waste of time and that when they complained, nothing was done about it.

Ali summed it up: "Nothing really happens. It's their word against ours... so who are they going to believe?"

According to Mohammad: "The governor might not believe us because the governor doesn't see everything. When the governor's around, officers are on best behaviour."

Since the Mubarek case, as well as the complaints procedure, all prisons in England and Wales have had to employ a full-time head of diversity.

Glen Parva's diversity head, Neil Baker, said he was "disappointed, very disappointed" at the allegations from Mo. He had been unaware of any issues with Mo and did not know if he had filled in a racist incident complaint form.

"The racist incident reporting system is encouraging young men to begin to report what's happening in prisons on a daily basis," he said.

"Within 48 hours of receiving a complaint, the prisoner receives written confirmation that his complaint had been received. The investigation is then carried out and the outcome reported to the prisoner within 14 days."

In response to the prisoners' allegations Glen Parva also issued a statement, which said: "Glen Parva does not tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind, and takes all reported incidents extremely seriously.

"Prisoners are encouraged to report incidents of a racist nature and all complaints received are fully investigated.

"Any prisoner who is unsatisfied with the complaints procedure can also register concerns to a number of people including the Independent Monitoring Board or the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman."

The first part of BBC Asian Network's prisons investigation at Glen Parva was broadcast on Monday 16 March and can be heard on the Asian Network Report website.

The second part at Brixton prison can be heard on Monday 23 March at 1830GMT.



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