Comment: Mubarek report holds Feltham staff to account

The saying that you can judge a civilisation by its prisons seems particularly apt in the aftermath of the Mubarek inquiry, whose scathing report on the death of Zahid Mubarek at the hands of his racist cellmate Robert Stewart was published last week. Sent to Feltham Young Offender Institution, the 19-year-old found himself incarcerated in what Justice Brian Keith’s report described as a “failing and under-resourced” prison system, condemned by ignorance and overcrowding to share a cell with a known sociopath. In its shabby mental health services and rampant racism, Feltham is a showcase for some of the horrors our society has to offer at its worst.

Unlike much of the rest of society, of course, Feltham enjoys the sometimes curious list of immunities that accompanies institutional status. To its credit the inquiry does not take refuge in “institutional racism” – the report specifically says that explicit racism on the part of individual officers was prevalent – but it does toy with the idea of “institutional religious intolerance”, while Zahid’s uncle called his nephew’s killing “institutional murder”. This is questionable. Institutional inertia may be responsible for some evils, racism perhaps included, but it is hard to see how a comparable case can be made for either intolerance or murder. Here, the blame must fall squarely on the individuals who are guilty, directly and indirectly, not conveniently palmed off on to unaccountable structures.

So once again the inquiry raises the problem of accountability. Like the Laming inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie, the Keith inquiry holds senior people to account, including Niall Clifford, governor at the time of the killing. Shockingly, Clifford was promoted and staff gave evidence to the inquiry knowing that it could not be used for disciplinary proceedings.

Nor does it say much for the claims of justice that deaths in prison will be exempt from liability under proposed reforms to the law on corporate manslaughter. They may be elusive but the remedies for prison overcrowding and lacklustre mental health services are relatively straightforward: more money, a better balance of care and control, and a sentencing policy less susceptible to the Daily Mail lobby. Accountability will be a harder nut to crack.

See Prison murder inquiry slams individual and systemic failings
See Feltham YOI still dogged by racism years after Zahid Mubarek’s murder

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.