NINETEEN-YEAR-OLD Zahid Mubarek was hours away from being released from a young offenders’ institution when he was murdered in his cell.
The teenager, who had been given a short sentence for stealing razors and interfering with a motor vehicle, was brutally attacked by his cell mate; a known racist with a history of violence.
When a public inquiry into Zahid’s death was eventually published six years later in 2006, it found 186 failings led to his death at Feltham Young Offenders' Institution. The failures were described by Martin Narey, the then director general of the prison service, as having gone “beyond institutional racism to blatant malicious pockets of racism."
While Lord Justice Keith’s public inquiry report concluded a long campaign for answers by Zahid’s family, it marked the start of a second movement, this time to ensure that lessons are learned and that Zahid’s legacy would allow others the second chance he was denied.
Since its formal launch in 2009, the Zahid Mubarek Trust – a charity which advocates for prison reform and challenges discrimination in the prison system - has established an impressive reputation for delivering grassroots support alongside national policy work.
Its purpose is clear: to ensure fairness and equality at the heart of the prison system.
“There are many deaths in prisons and many families who don’t have the means to make sure anything changes as a result of the death of their loved one,” said Khatuna Tsintsadze, a human rights lawyer and the trust’s prison programme director (pictured above with chief executive Imtiaz Amin at the Criminal Justice Awards).
“We feel that we are a collective voice for the other families and for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic prisoners particularly. We have an obligation to represent them at a strategic level.
“Being held to account is a cornerstone of fairness, and essential to a safe and legitimate prison operation.”
The small London-based team supports prisoners and their families on issues of equality, fairness and human rights.
They offer practical support to a number of prisons across England and Wales by running focus groups, attending equality meetings and running an equality peer mentor scheme.
But although the Zahid Mubarek Trust continues to make progress, the issue of racial discrimination in prisons is often disregarded and marginalised. As the prison system struggles to cope with increasing violence and fewer officers, Khatuna has found that equality has slipped further down the priority list.
While the overwhelming majority of discrimination complaints in prisons relate to race, the procedure for dealing with these is ineffective, the trust found. Less than one per cent of racial complaints from prisoners in 2014 were upheld, compared to 70 per cent of complaints from staff against prisoners, a report by the Zahid Mubarek Trust and Prison Reform Trust found.
These findings helped inform an independent review of the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals in the Criminal Justice System led by David Lammy MP. The review found the justice system in England and Wales is biased and discriminates in its treatment of people from ethnic minority backgrounds.
In agreement with the key principle of the Lammy Review that “scrutiny is the best route to fair treatment”, the Zahid Mubarek Trust has set out ambitious new objectives which include contributing a new equality policy in prisons and extending its independent scrutiny panel project to over 30 prisons across England and Wales.
“We believe that fairness and equality are essential dimensions for maintaining order in prisons, largely contributing to prisoners’ rehabilitation and social inclusion,” Khatuna said.
- The Zahid Mubarek Trust receives core funding under JRCT’s Rights and Justice programme.