Race Relations in Prison: Managing Performance and Developing Engagement

Published 16/12/2009
Type Article
Author(s) Dr Malcolm Cowburn, Dr Victoria Lavis
Corresponding Authors Dr Malcolm Cowburn, Principal Lecturer in Criminology, Sheffield Hallam University

This paper explores the paradox that whilst the quantitative measures of prison performance in relation to ‘race relations’ indicate substantial improvements in service delivery, more qualitative measures of the quality of prison life appear to indicate little substantive improvement in race relations. Using the underrepresentation of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) prisoners in accredited offending behaviour related prison programmes as a case study to explore understandings of race relations, the paper reflects on whether the under representation indicates the operation of racial discrimination by prison staff or a refusal to participate by prisoners. It also explores other explanations for this phenomenon relating to the enactment of positive ethnic identities and  resistance to programmes that ignore such identities. The paper concludes by considering the challenge of developing an active prison culture that validates all ethnic identities in culturally appropriate ways.