UK report: Homophobia in prisons is endemic, but often unreported or ignored

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A new report claims that while homophobia is widespread in the UK prison system, anti-gay assaults often go unreported or ignored by authorities.

The investigation, released by the Howard League for Penal Reform, calls for new policies and support networks to tackle what it calls “endemic” homophobia from staff and inmates.

The Independent reports that while some prisoners are separated along with child abusers and informants, the League claims this serves to fuel stereotypes about gay prisoners.

One bisexual man told the League: “I’ve been put in segregation and slashed down my back with a razor. They say if I go into the shower they will beat me up and some ask for sexual favours.

“We can’t report it, as we’re then labelled as a grass and that leads to abuse.”

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, said: “Anecdotally, we know there is endemic homophobia directed at gay prisoners from staff and other inmates.

“We have been told that the weak and vulnerable are targeted for the purchase of sexual favours or [their] exchange for canteen items, drugs or protection.

“The charity has been told that gay prisoners are advised by officers to ‘act less gay’ as a survival strategy.”

Last year, an inspection of HMP Dartmoor raised serious concerns about “overt” homophobia among prison’s staff.

According to the report, gay prisoners told inspectors that staff referred to them as “girls” or “ladies” and one was handed a gay magazine in a brown paper bag because a prison officer said he did not want to touch it.

Earlier this year, HM Prison Service released new guidelines for transgender prisoners, including how staff should address trans prisoners and how they should be allowed to dress.

Stonewall estimates there are 5,000 gay inmates in the prison system.

The Howard League’s report, which highlights positive steps taken by prisons around the UK, also highlights the need for coherent policies and for embedded support for gay prisoners.