Racism in prison

A person in prison may be subjected to the various forms of racism that unfortunately exist in this country today, just as the ordinary person walking down the street.

Whilst in prison, a prisoner has the right to formally complain about any discriminatory treatment.

Different types of complaints

Racism takes up many different forms. The most usually complaints concerning racism received by the prison service include discrimination on the grounds of race, harassment or victimisation.

A prison may also make a formal complaint about the failures of the prison service, should they fail to take positive steps to combat such behave and to promote equality within the prison.


Discrimination is the term given where a person or treated less favourably than another person because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnic. Discrimination may occur in relation to any difference in opinion or different choice one person makes to another.


Harassment describes the receipt of unwanted and offensive conduct due to a person’s choices, i.e. race, religion or sexual orientation. Such conduct is usually alarming and distressing to the person subject to such behaviour, and will often intimidate that person.


Victimisation occurs where a person is ill-treated. During the prison environment, this usually occurs if a prisoner has made a complaint about another prison, gives evidence in relation to another’s offence, or just generally behaves in a way that the person ill treating the prison does not agree with.

Most common complaints

Some common examples of prisoner complaints of racism include:

  • Direct racial abuse with or without physical violence, whether directed by another inmate or the prison staff

  • Ill treatment by staff on the grounds of a prisoners race

  • Discrimination in relation to the facilities provided for different racial groups.

  • Insufficient actions taken by the prison service to address racism in prison.

Making a complaint about racism in prison

The first step to take, and this would be completely to the discretion of the prisoners, and their confidence in relations between the prisoners and the staff would be to make a verbal complaint to a prison office.

There will be certain situations where a prison may not want to complain direct to a prison officer as it may be a complaint about another member of staff, or possibly the prisoner may feel the staff would not act impartially or deal with the complaint in the correct manner.

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For more information on:

  • The Discrimination Incident Report Form
  • The details of a complaint
  • Dealing with a complaint of racism
  • What if a prisoner is not happy with the outcome of the complaint?
  • Equality Act 2010