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Shocking spike in Black inmates targeted with pepper spray in prisons



The discriminatory use of pepper spray against Black inmates has been “normalised” in male prisons, campaigners say, as new figures show a shocking spike in cases.

The Prison Reform Trust (PRT) has accused the government of failing to meet its legal duties on equality after data shows the ongoing disparity in the deployment of Pava irritant spray against Black prisoners.

Pava, a synthetic form of pepper spray that causes searing pain in the eyes and a burning sensation on the skin, was first introduced in prisons in a pilot in 2018 before it was rolled out more widely across the male prison estate. 

Between April 2019 and March 2020, the first year it was available, 12 per cent of inmates it was used on were Black/Black British.

By November 2021 this had soared to 39 per cent, despite Black men only making up around 13 per cent of the male prison population. The rate had increased even further to 43 per cent by December 2022.


The PRT said the routine disproportionate use of the spray against Black prisoners was a “shocking indictment” of the prison system.

The latest figures show between November 2022 and September 2023 there were 181 recorded incidents where pepper spray was deployed against Black/Black British men, compared with 192 incidents for white men, according to a briefing from the PRT shared exclusively with The Independent.

The Prison Reform Trust has called for further rollout of pepper spray to be halted

(Danny Lawson/PA)

The data also reveals that between April 2019 and December 2022, 30 per cent of those sprayed were Muslim, despite only accounting for around 17 per cent of the male prison population.

Following the findings, the PRT has urgently called for further rollout of the spray to be halted, amid claims it could be used to incapacitate children under plans to curb violence at young offender institutions.

Prison officers have backed calls for a rollout to allow staff to defend themselves from aggression in the youth prisons following a “mass brawl” at Feltham Young Offenders Institution in west London in September.


However, the PRT believes the continued expansion of Pava without an explanation of the disproportionate use against Black inmates represents a failing by HM Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS) to meet its obligations to consider how policies affect people protected under the Equality Act.

It is urgently calling for data around the use of force and pepper spray to be published and for the prison service to commission its Race Action Programme, brought in to help tackle racism in the justice system, to re-examine Pava policies.

A charity has accused the Prison Service of failing in its duty under equality laws


Pia Sinha, chief executive of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “The routine and disproportionate use of Pava spray on Black, Black British and Muslim prisoners is a shocking indictment of our prison system and the government’s commitment to meeting its obligations under equality law. Now, ministers are even considering the possibility of extending the rollout to children in custody.

“It’s time to call a halt to this reckless expansion. The safety of staff and prisoners should be based on good relationships, with staff having the knowledge and skills to engage effectively with the people in their care.

“The routine arming of staff with Pava is an admission of failure by the government, and risks adding to rather than reducing a deteriorating cycle of violence in our prisons.”


Their calls come after Charlie Taylor, the inspector of prisons, warned that Black inmates were twice as likely to have force used against them, including Pava spray and the use of batons.

In a report last year, he said the Prison Service needs to take “meaningful action” to address issues including the disproportionate use of force on Black prisoners.

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “Pava is only used as a last resort by specially trained prison officers and we monitor its use carefully, including for any disparities in the way it’s deployed.”

Source: Independent

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