Recognising diversity in prisons
Prisons in England and Wales now respond to equality and diversity issues in a way which benefits both the staff and prisoners, following the introduction of a national equalities framework influenced by University of Bradford research.
Following the racially-motivated death of an inmate in a young offenders’ institution in 2000, policy and practice in prisons had focused almost exclusively on race and ethnicity, without addressing the need to recognise the breadth of inequalities experienced by other diverse minorities. Bradford academics collaborated with the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), the Race Equality Action Group, the Diversity Manager of a high security prison as well as with prisoners representing diversities including age, sexual orientation, disability, transgender, religion/belief and race/ethnicity. The knowledge generated through these collaborations has impacted directly on NOMS national policy development as well as local policy and practice.
The resulting NOMS national equalities framework adopts a key recommendation of the research which is greater prisoner consultation when developing guidelines for prison staff regarding diversity. Implementation of these guidelines means that staff benefit from improved support and confidence in responding appropriately and effectively to diversity issues, and prisoners benefit indirectly through their improved experience of staff responses. For example, in one prison guides have been developed to assist staff in respecting diversity when searching prisoners, particularly transgender, and also clarifying the rights and responsibilities of both staff and transgender offenders.
Based on other research findings, NOMS commissioned good practice guidance and a national training package for prisoner equalities representatives, and developed mediatory rather than adversarial methods for dealing with complaints relating to diversity issues. The research found that prisoners prefer to resolve issues of diversity and inequality in a non-confrontational way, confirming the importance of face-to-face interactions between staff and prisoners to ensure fairness in prisons.
Victoria Lavis and colleagues research has transformed prison policy and in 2015 their research received national recognition for continuing work in this area in prisons in England and Wales when they awarded second place in the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) prestigious Celebrating Impact Prize 2015 for Outstanding Impact on Public Policy.
- Dr Victoria Lavis
- Professor Tammi Walker