Here’s a surprise about Feltham …

Those of you who’ve been following the British news might have heard of Zahid Mubarak, a young Asian man who was beaten to death by his cellmate in Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution, near London (in fact, very near where I live). The cellmate was a thoroughly disturbed individual with psychopathic tendencies and a known racist. Well, I was certainly not surprised to read that the institution was condemned by the Hounslow Racial Equality Council for widespread racism and discrimination. Black inmates were routinely stigmatised as drug addicts and dealers, received harsher penalties and fewer priveleges than white inmates, and were called black bastards and monkeys and told they should be sent back to their own country.

This isn’t the first awful scandal to hit Filtham; in the early 1990s the place was notorious for its bullying and high suicide rate. Still, it doesn’t surprise me given the awful reputation the prison “service” has. I heard a woman being interviewed on the Eddie Nestor show last Sunday, who said that when her daughter visited, she was allowed to sit on her lap, but she (the mother) was told to keep her hands on the table. Nestor admitted that visitors are often treated like criminals who have yet to be caught, and there has been legal action taken over inappropriate strip searches.

If you need more information on the abuse which goes on in the British prison system, both juvenile and adult, look at this interview with the Guardian’s prison correspondent Eric Allison:

There are subtle ways of bringing a prisoner down, he says - ripping up his letters, moving him to a different prison the night before he has a visit from his family, and “forgetting” to inform them. “It’s called winding-up, and it’s a real skill. Some of them are top-of-the-tree, premiership wind-up merchants.” But things are getting better, says Allison, particularly since the Prison Officers Association, a breeding ground for extremists, lost its stranglehold in the prisons.

I’ve never been “inside” myself (except to deliver goods, and that was scary enough), but my experience with a special boarding school in the early 1990s leads me to suspect that these officers delibrately left Mubarak and his killer together. I personally witnessed a number of incidents where pupils were racially abused by staff, both behind their backs and to their faces; bullying and intimidation was brushed under the carpet and the victim was often blamed. I don’t instinctively give these people the benefit of the doubt, given that they have so much power over people who are basically helpless. Perhaps they did not intend that Mubarak would get murdered, but there are only three things that would lead an entire group of prison staff to leave an Asian (at the end of his sentence!) and a known psychopathic racist locked in a room together: stupidity, laziness, or malice. Or perhaps all three. Some heads really have to roll.

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