A Time For Change

It scares me that in 2017 1)  we are still locking up so many children in the UK, 2) that young black people are still being so unfairly treated by the Criminal Justice System at almost every level. and finally, 3) not enough people seem to be outraged by this.

We have just under a week before the Lammy Review launch (Friday 8th September) and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) have released a report entitled: Exploratory analysis of the youth secure estate by BAME groups“. (Key Findings Below)

When I read a report like this not only do I see what is written, I see what is not. What is hidden between statistical evidence because yes stats can tell you a lot but if you don’t know what to look for they can also miss out a lot more. Not to say that anyone is trying to hide information, more so when you can put the real life experience against stats, you maybe more likely to see a fuller picture.

For example, when I read “violence against a person” I think how much of that statistic is young black people on life sentences for joint enterprise, which we also know (thanks to the Dangerous associations: Joint enterprise, gangs and racism report) effects a disproportionate number of young black people, as the report states:  “More than three-quarters of the black and minority ethnic prisoners reported that the prosecution claimed that they were members of a ‘gang’, compared to only 39 percent of white prisoners. This apparent ‘gang’ affiliation’ is used to secure convictions, under joint enterprise provisions, for offences they have not committed.” Yes that says offences they have not committed.

“Young black people were more likely to be identified with ‘gang concerns’” was another key finding, although I am not sure who found it because the majority of us in the community were very aware of this already but any-who, I read that knowing “police gang databases in Manchester, London and Nottingham, which claim to record gang association…. include people who ‘have no proven convictions and… those who have been assessed by criminal justice professionals as posing minimal risk’.

Also the Young Review states: “BAME representation in the prison population is heavily influenced by age; there are proportionately many more young BAME male prisoners than older ones, with BAME representation in the 15-17 age group the highest at 43.7%”.

This made me think about the first key find “Overall, the number of young people, aged 10-17, held in custody has reduced substantially between the peak in 2007/08 and 2015/16, and falls have been seen across all ethnic groups” – it would be useful to see the ethnic breakdown of the different estates: Young Offender Institutions, Secure Training Centres and Secure Children’s Homes. A static given later on in the report states “87% of young black people were aged 16-17 on their sentence date”, could this mean that more young black people were being held in YOI’s than anywhere else, are they in places like YOI Feltham and YOI Cookham Wood?

After the publishing of the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales Annual Report 2016–17, Peter Clarke, the former Metropolitan police head of counter-terrorism and current Chef Inspector of prisons told the Guardian “no young offender institution or privately run secure training centre officially inspected in early 2017 was safe to hold children and young people”.

All these reports are starting to make my head hurt, when are we actually going to see some real change??? The reality is we are still holding too many children and young people, especially BAME young people, in places that are deemed to be unsafe but for government to change, society needs to change first, these issues cannot be normal they need to be unacceptable.

With all this said I believe that we cannot just moan about the way things are, we have to be part of the change and developing solutions, so here are a few recommendations from me:

  1.  Bring in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) as an assessment tool for all young people that enter the Criminal Justice System.
  2.  Develop a trauma-informed approach to policing and youth custody, which includes training staff at all levels.
  3.  Have culturally competent and ethnically diverse youth workers working across the secure estates and YOI’s to support prison officers – this would need to be volunteer or funded by the individual estates or Youth Justice Board so it doesn’t get caught up in a payment by results contract or have to jump through hoops via ticking boxes to prove hard outcomes.

Like always, this is just my opinion, I could be wrong…


Key findings

  • Overall, the number of young people, aged 10-17, held in custody has reduced substantially between the peak in 2007/08 and 2015/16, and falls have been seen across all ethnic groups. BAME group volumes have been falling at a slower rate, than the white group, and their share of the custodial population has increased over the past ten years.
  • Approximately 9 in every 10,000 young black people in the general population were in youth custody in 2015/16, the highest proportion of any ethnic group. This compares to 1 in every 10,000 for young people from white ethnic backgrounds, 4 in 10,000 mixed ethnic young people, and 2 in 10,000 ‘Asian and other’ young people; the difference between every ethnic group is statistically significant.
  • The analysis in this report indicates that the high proportion of young black people in custody is likely to be driven by arrest rates (i.e. the gateway to the criminal justice system), custodial sentencing at the magistrates’ court, and the fact that they have spent longer in the custodial estate on average than other groups in the past four years.

– The Lammy Review emerging findings report found that arrests of young black people are a likely contributing factor to the high number of young black people sentenced to custody, although there was also evidence of disproportionality in custodial sentences at the magistrates’ court.

– In the last four years, young black people have spent longer in custody than young white people with sentence lengths for violence against the person, theft and possession of weapons driving this trend. Between 2012/13 and 2014/15, young black people were also spending longer in custody than other BAME groups but this gap has closed in 2015/16.

– A high proportion of young black people are remanded in custody. However, in 2015/16, young black people on remand were not particularly more or less likely to be acquitted or receive a non-custodial sentence when compared to the white and mixed ethnic groups.

  • Proven reoffending rates for young white people who left custody between 2010 and 2014 and returned to custody within 6 months and 12 months were higher than for young black people with the differences consistently statistically significant. Therefore high proven reoffending rates for those returning to custody are unlikely to be a contributing factor in the disproportionately high number of young black males in custody.
  • Young black people were more likely to be identified with ‘gang concerns’ and be considered a ‘risk to others’ on entry to custody than any other ethnic group between April 2014 and March 2016.
  • Ethnic groups were compared across a range of measures including: educational attainment, looked after child status (LAC), free school meals (FSM), special educational needs (SEN), persistent absence and permanent exclusion. Overall there were few statistically significant differences between groups, and no consistent differences across measures and sentence lengths.
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