Irish Penal Reform Trust

HM Inspectorate of Prisons: Minority ethnic prisoners’ experiences of rehabilitation and release planning

5th November 2020

A thematic review of Minority ethnic prisoners’ experiences of rehabilitation and release planning has been published by HM Inspectorate of Prisons.

The report found that black and minority ethnic groups (“BME”) are greatly overrepresented in the prison population in England and Wales, amounting to 27% of the prison population but only 13% of the general (outside prison) population as of March 2020. Specifically, those who identify as black account for 3% of the general population but 13% of adult prisoners.

Previous reports and research have displayed that BME prisoners have more negative experiences in prison and less faith in the justice system than other prisoners.

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) prisoners are also greatly overrepresented. While their experiences are still included in this report, issues with identification made it difficult to locate any extensive amount of GRT prisoners to interview.

Key findings:

  • Ethnic identity’s influence on rehabilitation is underestimated – one-third of interviewed BME prisoners reported their ethnicity had directly influenced their experience of rehabilitation and release planning. Almost no staff interviewed had considered ethnicity as impactful to prisoners’ rehabilitation
  • Not enough was being done to improve communication with BME prisoners – attempts to understand the distinct perspectives of BME prisoners were largely unimaginative and ineffective
  • Experiences with staff treatment, victimisation, relationships with staff, behaviour management, disciplinary procedures, complaints and out of cell time were all reported as being poorer for BME prisoners than white prisoners.
  • GMT prisoners were more likely than other groups of prisoners to describe complex needs, to report feeling unsafe, and to say they had experienced victimisation from other prisoners
  • BME prisoners also reported lower engagement than white prisoners with supports regarding sentence planning and rehabilitation
  • BME and GRT prisoners had low expectations of rehabilitation and release support based on discriminative experiences and not feeling their prison had a ‘rehabilitative culture’ 
  • BME prisoners valued and wanted more access to purposeful activity and rehabilitative opportunities
  • BME prisoners appeared to take advantage of opportunities for education, work and vocational training but they did not feel as encouraged or supported to do so. They were more likely to report securing release on temporary license opportunities than white prisoners, and more likely to report completing offending behaviour programmes
  • BME prisoners reported less access to family support than white prisoners – generally answered family support questions more negatively than white prisoners, only a small proportion felt encouraged to maintain family communications
  • Some ethnic-specific rehabilitative work did exist and where it did it was valued: ‘Changing the Game’ programme aimed at young black men, ‘Traveller Resettlement Project’, ‘Muslim Women in Prison’, ‘Hibiscus Initiatives’ specifically for BME women
  • The disparity in experiences was lesser in female prisoners, with BME female prisoners reporting mostly similar experiences to white female prisoners, except for in the area of access to activities
  • Lack of accurate data about GRT prisoners, both in terms of their experiences and their administrative data, existed across all prisons and there was very little strategic focus on GRT prisoners. Also, lack of data being compiled generally to identify any discrimination against minority prisoners in their service access and rehabilitation  


  • National and local HM Prison and Probation Service strategies relating to rehabilitation, release planning, equality and diversity should consider how to increase BME and GRT prisoners’ access to potential benefits of ‘rehabilitative culture’
  • The specific needs and experiences of minority prisoners must be part of this effort: increasing understanding of staff of ethnic identity, improving engagement with family support interventions, improving sentence planning and rehabilitative work efforts with cultural sensitivity
  • Identifying and addressing discrimination with proper and widespread data which highlights differences between different ethnic groups
  • Rehabilitative culture should be based on dialogue with prisoners and therefore with different ethnic groups of prisoners
  • Creative efforts should be made to understand the different perspectives of BME and GRT prisoners and suitable specialist community groups should be founded
  • HMPPS should support the development of culturally sensitive services for minority ethnic prisoners – meeting specific needs and recognising the importance of identity
  • Accurate identification of GRT prisoners must be secured to they can be provided with culturally appropriate support and services and such prisoners should be identifiable when collecting prison data and addressing prisoners needs in prison policy

Read Minority ethnic prisoners’ experiences of rehabilitation and release planning on the HM Inspectorate website here.

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