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Black deaths in UK prisons are among the most violent, scathing reports

Black and mixed-race deaths in Britain’s prisons are among the most violent and widespread, a charity warns.

In a new report Deaths of racialized people in prison 2015-2022Inquest has revealed new Freedom of Information Act data showing that 2,220 people died in prison between January 2015 and December 2021.

The highest number of prison deaths among racial groups was among blacks and mixed-race people (136), which researchers say “proves the role of institutional racism in prison ownership.”

The report further examined the “avoidable and premature” deaths of 22 racially abused individuals in prison, some of which were found to involve the inappropriate use of segregation, racial stereotypes, neglect of health and bullying.

Deborah Coles, Executive Director of Inquest, said: “The failure of post-mortem investigations to examine the potential role of racism or discrimination in deaths renders racial issues invisible. As a result, the opportunity to recognize and address racial injustice and inequality is lost.

“The decision to imprison those featured in this report resulted in a death sentence. Incarceration is ineffective in reducing crime and instead leads to harm and violence, with racist and marginalized groups being hardest hit.”

Black and ethnic minorities are over-represented in the prison population, accounting for 28 percent of the inmates but only 13 percent of the total population.

In juvenile detention, Black, Asian and multiracial young people together make up 53 percent of those incarcerated, with Black young people alone accounting for 29 percent of the population.

The Inquiry Report covered the deaths of Black, Mixed Race, Asian, Middle Eastern, Eastern European, White Irish, White Gypsy and Irish Travellers.

“We reiterate that the deaths of racist people, while not disproportionate, are among the most controversial, violent and neglectful,” the report said.

Inquest argued that more focused investigation, oversight and action were needed to end the deaths of racist people in prison, as well as a halt to prison construction and resources to be diverted from the criminal justice system to welfare, health, housing, education and social care.

It comes after the government in December outlined plans for the largest prison construction program in more than 100 years, with 18,000 new and 2,000 temporary places to be created, taking the prison population to nearly 100,000 by 2026. And that’s despite the fact that the UK’s prison population has already increased by 70 per cent in the last 30 years.

The latest prison expansion plan fits into a broader pattern of significant investments in prison assets, according to Inquest.

By the end of 2020, government spending on prisons exceeded £18 billion, with the total cost per prisoner being £42,670.

Around 371 people died in prison in 2021, according to Inquest data, making it the highest prison death toll on record in England and Wales, even excluding Covid-19-related deaths.

The report covered the experience of Mohammed Irfaan Afzal, a 22-year-old man of Pakistani background. He was in custody at HMP Leeds when he died of a chest infection on August 4, 2019 after losing so much weight that he was emaciated.

Mohammed was physically healthy when he arrived in prison, but within 48 days he lost nearly a third of his body weight, leaving him vulnerable to infections.

Inquiries into his death revealed that not only was his health unassessed in the days prior, when he seemed unwell, but also due to mental illness and learning disabilities.

His sister Ayesha Afzal said: “My brother suffered from fear, hunger, illness and loneliness in the last months of his life. This will haunt me every day until I die. No one was held accountable for his death and there was no justice.”

Neglect of both the physical and mental health of people has been a key issue in other cases highlighted in the report.

The Department of Justice has been asked for comment.

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