Race Matters in British Prisons: Towards a Research Agenda

Leonidas Cheliotis, Alison Liebling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Drawing on surveys of 4,860 prisoners’ perceptions of the quality of prison life in 49 establishments in England and Wales, this paper examines the extent to which prisoners viewed race relations in prison as problematic. Emphasis was placed upon how aspects of race relations were rated by different ethnic groups, and in individual prisons. Significant differences were found between prisons of the same security category. The findings support those of previous studies in that they raise concerns about the treatment of ethnic minority prisoners, particularly in some prisons. Attention was also paid to the role of gender, age and the security category of the prison. Ethnic minority prisoners tended to rate the quality of race relations in prison more poorly than their White counterparts. Large proportions amongst all ethnic minority groups felt that they were subject to unfair treatment compared to the White majority. On the whole, female prisoners were more likely than males to rate the quality of race relations more favourably, as were adult prisoners in comparison to their young counterparts. Gender and age had a considerable impact on the views of ethnic minority prisoners on the quality of race relations in the establishment. Perceived quality of race relations was significantly associated with prisoners’ views on more general aspects of their treatment in prison, such as respect, humanity, fairness, relationships with staff and safety. Neither the ethnic composition of each prison’s population nor the respective ratio of White to ethnic minority staff had a significant impact on how prisoners viewed the quality of race relations. These results suggest, amongst other things, that perceptions of the legitimacy of penal practices differ significantly between age and ethnic groups, and that attempts to reduce discrimination work more effectively in relation to distributive practices than in relation to attitudes and general treatment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286-317
Number of pages32
JournalBritish Journal of Criminology
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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