12 October 2022

Despite decades of activism from bereaved people and their supporters, too often the deaths of racialised people in prison have been dismissed, and the role of racism has been overlooked and ignored.

INQUEST’s new report, Deaths of racialised people in prison 2015 – 2022: Challenging racism and discrimination makes a powerful intervention as it uncovers new data and tells the stories of 22 racialised people and how they died preventable and premature deaths in prison.

The report specifically looks at the deaths of Black and mixed-race people; Asian and mixed-race people; Middle Eastern and mixed-race people; people of Eastern European nationality; White Irish people and White Gypsy or Irish Traveller people.

Through a literature review, an analysis of never before published data on ethnicity and deaths in prison, and an examination of the relevant inquests and investigations, the report evidences the role of institutional racism in the prison estate.

Key issues include the inappropriate use of segregation, racial stereotyping, the hostile environment, the neglect of physical and mental health, the failure to respond to warning signs, and the bullying and victimisation of racialised people.  

INQUEST’s research exposes deeply concerning patterns affecting people from racialised groups, which contribute to premature and preventable deaths in prison. Despite the thematic issues these cases raise, post-death investigations and inquests are consistently silent on issues of racism and discrimination.

Deborah Coles, Executive Director of INQUEST said: “We see time and time again repeated patterns of failure which contribute to the deaths of Black and racialised people in prison. Yet for too long the systemic issues contributing to these deaths have been ignored.

The failure of post-death investigations to examine the potential role of racism or discrimination in deaths renders racialised issues invisible. As a result, the opportunity to acknowledge and address racial injustices and inequalities is lost.

The decision to imprison the people featured in this report ended up being a death sentence. Imprisonment is ineffective in reducing crime and instead perpetuates harm and violence, with racialised and marginalised groups worst affected.

In order to end deaths of racialised people in prison, in the short term we need more focused investigation, oversight and action on these deaths. In the long term we must halt prison building and redirect resources from the criminal justice system to welfare, health, housing, education and social care.”

Featured in the report are the experiences of Mohammed Irfaan Afzal, who was a 22-year-old man of Pakistani background. He was being held on remand at HMP Leeds when he died on 4 August 2019 from a chest infection, after losing so much weight he became emaciated. Prison staff described his presentation as ‘bewildered’ and ‘child like’.

Mohammed was physically healthy upon arrival in the prison but over 48 days lost almost one third of his body weight, leaving him vulnerable to infection. Investigations into his death identified failures to assess his health, not only in the days before when he appeared unwell, but also for mental ill health and learning disabilities.

Ayesha Afzal, Mohammed’s sister, said: “My brother suffered for the last few months of his life scared, starving, sick, and alone. That will haunt me every day until I die. No one has been held accountable for his death, and there has been no justice.”

This neglect of both the physical and mental health of racialised people is a key theme arising across the cases highlighted. Also see the cases of Anabella Landsberg, Tyrone Givans, Osman Ali Hassan, Natasha Chin, Tommy Nicol, which are detailed in the report.

On 20 October 2022, INQUEST will hold an online seminar to further discuss the report alongside the researchers and families involved. All welcome.


For information and interview requests please contact Lucy on [email protected]


REPORT LAUNCH EVENT: Free webinar, Thursday 20 October, 12.30 – 1.30pm.

Journalists should refer to the Samaritans Media Guidelines for reporting suicide and self-harm and guidance for reporting on inquests.