Covid-19 Impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic Prisoners, Prison Leavers and Families

We use the term ‘BAME’ to refer to communities with shared languages, cultures, religions, and practices including Gypsy, Roma and Irish Travellers. This is consistent with the terminology used in the Lammy review, by criminal justice agencies and most stakeholders that work in or around the criminal justice system. However, we recognise that this shorthand does not sufficiently reflect the diversity of those who would fall under this umbrella label.


Who we are 

“Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something.” Judith Butler 


We are a group of specialist organisations and academics working in criminal justice with shared vision and values. We have come together to develop a shared approach in order to address our concerns during Covid-19.


The current public health crisis has led to inequalities and injustice becoming more acute. Across the prison system policies and practices will be developed and implemented quickly, without independent oversight and accountability. What happens in prisons matters, and will, of course, affect the wider community as prisoners are released and new people are committed.


Over a quarter (27%) of the prison population comes from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background. Underlying health conditions prevalent among this group make them more susceptible to Covid-19 in prisons, which have been a flashpoint in the battle against the virus across the world. 


Prior to the pandemic, the treatment of, and outcomes for, BAME prisoners was disproportionately negative2. Minority ethnic prisoners often report more negatively about their experience in prison, and their relationships with staff. Responses by Muslim prisoners to the inspectorate’s survey on these issues were even worse. Allegations of racism continue to be reported by prisoners, whilst discrimination complaints are inadequately investigated “all too often” according to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman3. 


We recognise the emerging risk of further negative impact on minority ethnic communities as a result of the pandemic, and come together as a collective voice to ensure that decisions during Covid-19 do not result in more adverse treatment of, and outcomes for, Black and minority ethnic prisoners – and staff – now, and in the months to come. 


We are aware of the situation in other countries and would like to explore what lessons can be learnt from the international experience of responding to this pandemic, as it relates to prisons. 


We are also committed to ensuring the provisions of the Public Sector Equality Duty, the Equality Act 2010 and s95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which require that published information about the operation of the criminal justice system are not overlooked, or worse, forgotten, at this time of crisis.

Organisations Involved

Zahid Mubarek Trust (ZMT) is a national charity advocating for racial justice in the prison system. The ZMT was established by the family of 19-year-old Zahid Mubarek who was serving 90 days at a Young Offender Institution when he murdered by his racist cellmate on the morning of his release in 2000. The Trust believes that treating prisoners fairly and humanely improves rehabilitation, reduces reoffending and advances social inclusion.


POPS (Partners Of Prisoners and Family Support Group) is a user-led charity supporting families through their contact with the criminal justice system as a result of a loved one’s conviction. POPS focuses on strengthening relationships within families and between families and their communities. It aims to help individuals overcome stigma, understand their identity, build self-confidence/skills and contribute to a more cohesive society.

The Traveller Movement (TM) is an award winning leading national charity committed to the fulfilment of human rights for ethnic minority Gypsy Roma and Traveller people. We have particular expertise in tackling local issues and shaping national policies. This is achieved by a proactive community advocacy strategy, capacity building and acting as a bridge between the GRT sector, service providers and policy makers, thereby stimulating debate and promoting forward-looking strategies to advance equality, civic engagement, inclusion and community cohesion.

Why this campaign?

Although the pandemic doesn’t discriminate along racial, ethnic or social-cultural lines, existing structural and racial disparities and inequalities may lead to some communities being affected more than others. Early data from the US, broken down by race, is alarming. As of early April, 72% of Covid-19 related deaths in Chicago were within the black community, despite it only representing one-third of the city’s population. 

Emerging evidence from the UK suggests that COVID-19 is having a disproportionate effect on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. Early analysis also points to an overrepresentation of minority ethnic health and care professionals among coronavirus fatalities. 

Whilst we welcome both the government and the Labour party initiatives to review the impact of coronavirus on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, we want to ensure that BAME communities across the country have the opportunity to feed into these reviews. 


Professor Richard Coker, in the report3 commissioned by the Prison Reform Trust and Howard League for Penal Reform, warned that the risk to prisoners and staff from exposure to the virus is “far, far greater” than the risks to individuals in the wider community. As the number of prisoners and staff affected by Covid-19 continues to rise, the breakdown by ethnicity, including other protected characteristics, remain unknown. 


We have urged the MoJ / HMPPS to collect and publish the data on the impact of the pandemic on criminal justice practitioners and prisoners from minority ethnic backgrounds, as they remain overrepresented in the ‘at-risk’ groups in the UK. We want to make sure that the experiences of these groups, including their families, are heard. For this purpose, we will create an open and safe space for them to share their stories. As a collective voice for our communities we will ensure that this evidence is communicated to the reviews and inquires now and in future.


Amid this global crisis, let us pause together to empower hidden voices and listen to untold stories of BAME prisoners, prison leavers and families affected by Covid-19. Let’s hope that we can truly use chaos as opportunity to learn.


Campaign approach:

The campaign will focus on three key areas:


  1. Improving understanding of the impact of Covid-19 on BAME prisoners, prison leavers, and their families.

  2. Giving a voice to the most marginalised communities affected by Covid-19, who otherwise may not have a platform for sharing their first-hand experience. 

  3. Identifying key learning points from this pandemic to inform ongoing reviews, inquiries and approach to minimising harm on these communities in the case of future health crisis. 

We will run extensive evidence gathering through direct engagement with our communities, especially those with less opportunity to have their voices heard. We want to hear how Covid-19 has affected those in contact with the CJS to identify shared challenges and key learning points for the authorities and our communities.  

In the coming months our community advocates will conduct surveys and group discussions, will collect your experiences shared on our social media (@RecordofOurOwn on twitter and Facebook) and will reach out for interviews to amplify your stories. 

We will regularly update our website with emerging findings and your stories shared with others for support and encouragement. We will produce a report for stakeholders, including the relevant reviews and inquiries. We will advocate for the findings from this campaign to be heard loud and clear now and in the months to come.