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.

If the complaint is of a more serious nature, or requires a more structured and formal process of complaint, then the prisoner will need to submit a formal written Discrimination Incident Report Form.

The Discrimination Incident Report Form

This form should be readily available on all wings within the prison. If a prisoner cannot obtained this form, and would rather the complaint be kept completely confidential, the prisoner could instead fill out a COMP1, which is a usual complaints form and readily available for all prisoners to access without the need to inform prison staff.

The COMP1 form will be posted in a complaints box located on each wing, if a prison is extremely concerned about confidentiality, they should ensure they submit the complain on a COMP2 form, which is a pink form with an attached envelope that will only be opened and read by the person the letter is addressed to.

The details of a complaint

It is very important that any complaint regarding racism is submitted in as much detail as possible, and is not described in general terms.

In complaints of this nature, witnesses can play a crucial role, and wherever possible, such witnesses should be listed when the complaint is submitted.

It is not essential for the prison to classify his complaint, i.e. whether the complaint is of racism, harassment or victimisation.

Dealing with a complaint of racism

When a complaint of racism is dealt with by the prison service, all parties safety will be of paramount concern.

Any complaint concerning a member of staff will be referred for investigation where a complaint concerning a fellow inmate will be internally investigated by the prison manager.

The prisoner making the complaint will receive a written response once a decision has been made. A response should be expected within 3 weekdays if the complaint concerns another inmate, or 10 weekdays if the complaint is against a member of staff.

If there are exceptional circumstances that require a longer investigation, or cause a delay in the process, the prisoner will have the right to be informed of the current situation throughout the proceedings.

What if a prisoner is not happy with the outcome of the complaint?

If a prisoner is not satisfied with the outcome, he can then make a stage 2 complaint. This will involve appealing the decision to the Prison Ombudsman.

Where a prison does follow this process, he must be aware that the prison ombudsman cannot award damages. The only power the ombudsman has is to recommend compensation or steps to take by the prison service.

Equality Act 2010

A prisoner does not have to exhaust the internal prison complaints procedure; there is always the option to pursue a complaint through the County Courts.

The Equality Act 2010 defines various types of discrimination, and legal advice should be considered if a prisoner decides upon this method of complaint.

A claim to the County Court must be issued within 6 months of the last incident complained of.