Work & Wellbeing Diversity & Inclusion Recruitment Advertising

Ministry of Justice recruitment ad banned for offensive stereotyping


By John Glenday | Reporter

November 1, 2022 | 3 min read

The Ministry of Justice has found itself on the wrong side of a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over its depiction of a white prison officer and a Black inmate in an ad.


Ethnic stereotyping sees offensive Ministry of Justice ad locked away / Ministry of Justice

Part of a recruitment campaign for prison officers, the advert sought key workers to fill roles within HMP Wormwood Scrubs, but was instead deemed likely to cause serious offense for perpetuating negative stereotypes.

The Facebook ad appeared three times between May and August, on each occasion showing a static image of an interaction between an officer and an inmate superimposed with the words: ‘Become A Prison Officer. One career, many roles.’

Arguing that the depicted individuals were real, not portrayals, the Ministry of Justice considered that the photo was an accurate or fair depiction of prison life, but the ASA thought differently.

In its adjudication, the advertising overseer wrote: “The ad showed a real white prison officer and Black male inmate in a prison setting. The inmate wore an afro pick comb in his hair – a tool we understood was uniquely associated with Black culture. The ad made reference to prison officers being ‘problem solvers’ and ‘life changers,’ and we considered it drew a link between the officer depicted and those attributes. On the other hand, the Black prisoner was depicted as a criminal, without those positive attributes.

“We considered the ad did not suggest that all Black men were criminals, or were more likely to be so than any other ethnic group. However, it showed an imbalanced power dynamic, with a smiling white prison officer, described as a ‘life changer,’ and a Black, institutionalized prisoner. We considered the ad’s focus on the positive qualities of the white prison officer and negative casting of the Black prisoner was likely to be seen as perpetuating a negative racial stereotype.”

As a consequence, the Ministry of Justice has been instructed to take steps to avoid engendering offense on the grounds of race, with the advert itself banned in its present form.

The decision forms part of a broader push to improve racial representation in advertising.

Work & Wellbeing Diversity & Inclusion Recruitment Advertising

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