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BAME offenders: Bias ‘needs to be tackled’

Young offenders from ethnic minority backgrounds will become “the next generation” of adult criminals unless the justice system is reformed, says MP David Lammy.

A review led by him found the system in England and Wales is biased and discriminates in treatment of people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The Labour MP has made 35 recommendations for change.

The government said it will “look carefully” at the recommendations.

People from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds make up 25% of the prison population and 41% of the youth justice system, despite these groups being 14% of the general population, the review says.

It has highlighted various “concerning” statistics.

These include:

  • The proportion of BAME young offenders rose from 25% to 41% between 2006 and 2016
  • The rate of black defendants pleading not guilty in Crown Courts between 2006 and 2014 was 41%, compared with 31% for white defendants
  • The BAME proportion of young people offending for the first time rose from 11% in 2006 to 19% a decade later
  • There was an identical increase in the BAME proportion of young people reoffending over the same period

Mr Lammy said it was “well established” that there was an over-representation of BAME individuals in the criminal justice system, but his report was about looking at their “treatment and outcomes”.

Whilst he does not believe all of the blame lies at the door of the justice system, noting the “broadly proportionate” decision on charging by the Crown Prosecution Service, Mr Lammy said: “It is clear to me that BAME individuals still face bias.”

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“Actions matter most,” he added, “and the prescriptions for fair treatment are remarkably similar, whatever the diagnosis of the problem.”

Trust is one of the major issues, according to the report. It says that BAME individuals do not trust the advice provided by their solicitors or police officers when it comes to pleading guilty and, as a result, a higher proportion end up on trial and with a longer sentence.

Also, when in prison, many BAME men and women believe they are actively discriminated against, which Mr Lammy says “contributes to an atmosphere of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and an urge to rebel, rather than reform.”

His biggest concern, however, is the youth justice system, as whilst youth offending has fallen significantly in the past 10 years, there is now a larger share of BAME young people offending for the first time, reoffending and serving a custodial sentence.

Mr Lammy called the rise “disturbing”, and said the criminal justice system appears to have “given up on parenting”.

The report points out black children are more than twice as likely to grow up in a lone parent family, and black and mixed ethnic boys are more likely than white boys to be permanently excluded from school.

He said: “Prisons may be walled off from society, but they are products of it. The criminal justice system has deep-seated issues to address, but there is only so much it can do.”

Mr Lammy said responsibility must be taken by adults – and the youth justice system “should be more rooted in local communities” where parents can play a stronger role.


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