By Jo Cardwell
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We Are Monster

This article is over 7 years, 3 months old
Issue 402

On the night of 21 March 2000, cell 38 of Feltham Young Offenders Institute (YOI) became the setting for a racist murder. Zahid Mubarek was the victim and fellow inmate Robert Stewart the murderer. Watching this film you understand why Zahid’s family spent six years campaigning for a public enquiry to discover why a violent, mentally disturbed and self-confessed racist was placed into a cell with an Asian inmate.

The film attempts to highlight the findings of the Keith Public Enquiry and we get a glimpse into the world of youth justice in which a catalogue of errors and institutional racism unfolds. At the time of the murder allegations emerged that guards engaged in a “game” called Gladiator, in which unsuitable cell-mates were placed together for the guards’ entertainment. The public enquiry found no evidence of this, but in its closing summary the Prison Officers Association did admit institutional racism and 88 recommendations for improvement were made. Zahid’s family and the Howard League for Penal Reform do not believe that these recommendations have been implemented.

Zahid had been jailed for 90 days for stealing razor blades worth £6 and for “interfering with a car”. The fact that he paid with his life can be laid at the door of a criminal justice system that has little to do with rehabilitation and more to do with propping up a divided and unequal society. After watching this film you will agree with Zahid’s family that Robert Stewart was also a victim of the system. For them this was institutional murder. The film focuses on Stewart as both perpetrator and victim. In doing so, it is able to highlight the failings of the guards and governor of Feltham at the time, none of whom have faced prosecution or disciplinary procedures.

It is estimated that one night in Feltham YOI costs £158. How could Zahid’s incarceration be justified at a cost of £14,220 for stealing £6 of razor blades? The youth justice system costs approximately £4 billion a year. Britain is second only to Turkey in Europe for the number of children and young people who are locked up. The levels of re-offending are notoriously high, showing that the approach is not working. We Are Monster is worth watching not only because we should remember Zahid Mubarek, but because we should question and challenge the racist climate developed by those in power, the institutions they rule over and the crimes they get away with.

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