New report by INQUEST highlighting the issue of deaths of racialised people in prison


INQUEST is the leading charity providing expertise on state related deaths and their investigation to bereaved people, lawyers, advice and support agencies, the media and politicians.

What does the report investigate?

The report, published on 12 October 2022, looks at the question of institutional racism in the prison estate, with a focus on deaths in custody between 2015 – 2022. The report recognises that the deaths of racialised people in prison are not a new phenomenon, but nevertheless seeks to provide an up-to-date analysis of this issue.

What does the report find?

To provide context, the report references the overrepresentation of racialised groups in prison, pointing to official statistics which show that Black and minority ethnic people account for 28% of the prison population, but only 13% of the general population. The report explains that this overrepresentation of racialised groups is even more stark in youth custody.

The data analysed during the investigation for the report covers the seven-year period between 1 January 2015 and 31 December 2021 and shows that during this period:

    • 2,220 people died in prison.
    • Of the 2,220 people that died, 97% (2149) were men and 3% (71) were women.
    • Of the 2,220 people that died, 16% (354) were racialised people.
    • The 15 deaths of racialised women made up 21% of all deaths of women in prison whilst the 339 deaths of racialised men made up 16% of all deaths of men in prison.

The report finds that although the deaths of racialised people may not be disproportionate to the wider prison population, they are among some of the most contentious, violent and neglectful. Using a sample of cases involving racialised deaths, the report identifies seven critical issues in deaths of racialised people in prison. These issues include the inappropriate use of segregation, racial stereotyping, the hostile environment, the neglect of physical health, the neglect of mental health, the failure to respond to warning signs, and bullying and victimisation.

The report concludes that the continual deaths of racialised people in contentious circumstances in prison reflects the persistence of institutional racism in the prison estate and the criminal justice system.

What does the report find in relation to post-death investigations?

The report finds that vital questions about whether the potential role of racism and discrimination informed the treatment of racialised people prior to their deaths should be, but are not, carefully considered in post-death investigations. This line of inquiry would, according to the report, help prevent the recurrence of contentious deaths of racialised people in the prison estate. Similarly, the report finds it unsurprising that the same failures are repeated, as there is no effective oversight of any action taken in response to critical inquest conclusions and recommendations.

What are the report’s recommendations?

In summary, the report recommends the following:

    • The relevant Government bodies develop a detailed action plan to address the distinct issues arising out of the deaths of racialised people in prison.
    • The Ministry of Justice ensure that data disaggregated by ethnicity on all types of death in prison is published. This data should include White Irish people, White Gypsy or Irish Traveller people and people of Eastern European nationality in addition to the existing ethnicity categories current used.
    • The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and the coroner’s service ensure that they meaningfully consider the race/ ethnicity of those who die in prison as well as the potential role of racism or discrimination contributing to their death.
    • The Government establish a National Oversight Mechanism, a new and independent body tasked with the duty to collate, analyse and monitor the implementation of recommendations arising out of post-death investigations and inquiries.

At Saunders Law, our team has a wealth of experience representing bereaved families in inquests arising out of deaths in the prison system. We endorse the findings and recommendations of the report and hope that it sheds light on an important but often overlooked issue, so that changes can be made.


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