Cut out racist cancer

    Superintendent Ali Dizaei, falsely accused of dishonesty by
    senior police officers, once referred to the “cancer of racism”
    that had taken hold of the Met. It was an apt phrase and one that
    might equally well be applied elsewhere in our public services: the
    inquiry into the death of Zahid Mubarek in Feltham Young Offender
    Institution and the prison inspectorate’s recent report on Portland
    YOI both in their different ways provide evidence of racism’s
    brutal grip.

    We owe the fact that institutional racism in parts of the public
    sector is so vigorously debated to Sir William McPherson, whose
    inquiry asked awkward questions about the way in which Stephen
    Lawrence’s murder had been investigated but did not restrict its
    criticisms to the police. Even Lord Scarman, whose report on the
    Brixton riots in the early 1980s made such an impact, had not
    accused the police of endemic racism. But five years after
    McPherson, how much has really changed?

    The answer appears to be not much. As an independent inquiry led
    by Sir Bill Morris published findings this week of serious
    discrimination against black and ethnic minority officers in the
    Met, the Mubarek inquiry heard how one prison officer had been
    forced to resign because of racial abuse which had gone unchecked
    for years. In the year 2000 alone, there were 62 allegedly racist
    incidents in Feltham YOI.

    It is for the inquiry to judge whether cock-up or conspiracy lay
    behind the murder of Mubarek by his cellmate Robert Stewart four
    years ago. But one thing is clear: the prison service must begin
    rooting out racism in YOIs now rather than wait for the outcome of
    the inquiry. As McPherson shows, the pace of reform is slow enough
    already. The toll of 93 suicides in prison so far this year is
    further testament to the need for a more enlightened regime.

    Fortunately there are some hopeful signs. Colin Moses, the chair
    of the Prison Officers Association, has signalled his determination
    to tackle questionable attitudes among his membership, and the
    Commission for Racial Equality has the prison service in its
    sights. But the forces ranged against change are considerable. Let
    the battle commence.

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