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The Lammy Review - will there be a legacy for BAME communities?

This September David Lammy MP launches his government-sponsored review into the treatment of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the criminal justice system of England and Wales. We can only speculate what his key recommendations will be but hope that it marks the beginning of the end for race inequalities in the justice system.

In his update statement to the Prime Minister last November, Lammy identified race inequalities across the criminal justice system. The evidence for these is supported by a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) statistical analysis paper on ‘ethnic disproportionality’.  Lammy has highlighted a number of critical issues, including the following three which BTEG considers the most urgent priorities for action:

  • Stop and search
  • Over-representation of BAME people within the criminal justice system  
  • ‘what those beyond government can contribute’ including local communities, faith groups and the voluntary sector.

Stop and Search

While Lammy’s review is not focusing on policing, he has rightly highlighted the higher rates of arrest for BAME people compared to white people. This then leads to higher numbers of BAME people ending up in the courts and prison system.

Lammy supported the ‘reforms’ to Stop and Search led by the Home Office, which resulted in a significant reduction in the number of Stop and Search. BTEG is concerned about the recent calls and plans to increase Stop and Search in response to the shocking deaths of young people from the use of knives. The Criminal Justice Alliance analysis, and the history of Stop and Search, shows that ramping up this will be counter productive, a diversion of police resources and a failure to deal with the root causes.

Stop and Search and higher arrest rates are some of the reasons why more BAME people have less trust and confidence in the justice system than white people.

Over representation of BAME people in the criminal justice system

Lammy pointed out that:

  • Some groups are heavily over-represented in prison - 12% of prisoners are black compared with just 3% of the wider population. Muslims and Gypsies and Travellers are also over-represented.
  • Black men and women are more likely than white men and women to receive a custodial sentence for the same offence, especially for drug offences.
  • Black men were four times more likely to be in prison and more likely to be placed in high security prisons than white people.
  • Black young males were about 15% more likely to reoffend compared to white young males. Disturbingly, since Lammy’s update the proportion of BAME people in secure youth institutions has gone up from 40% to 45%, and in London they make up more than three quarters of the youth offending service cohort.
  • The impact of the criminal records regime has a serious impact on the rehabilitation of offenders and especially youth offenders.

The positive story of the reductions in white children and young people held in custody and as first time entrants to the youth justice system is tainted by the lack of progress for young BAME people. At its heart is an inability to face up to the strategic challenge of race inequalities across the youth justice system and a failure of prevention, diversion and early interventions for a substantial group of children.

Recently HM Inspector of Prisons declared all youth custody establishments in England and Wales as unsafe due to escalating levels of violence and a deterioration in conditions. Radically different approaches are required to avert a continuing downward spiral for the youth justice system of England and Wales. At its core must be ending the cycle of violence within the youth estate and improving prevention, diversion and rehabilitation amongst young people in the community.

Tackling race inequalities must be centre stage for the MoJ and Youth Justice Board. Post Lammy there can be no excuses.

The Corston Review made the case for a radically different approach to the treatment of women in the justice system. The recent report Double Disadvantage, from Agenda and Women in Prison, highlights the experience of BAME women in the justice system, who make up 18% of the female prison population. It highlighted the disproportionate outcomes these women experience in sentencing, with black women 25% more likely than white women to be sentenced to custody at Crown Court.

The case for reform for women, children and young people within the justice system is overwhelming. The cost to society, families, individuals and victims is enormous and pervasive and Lammy should mark the point where tackling race inequalities is integral within policy and programme reform, with the explicit aim of custody reductions and effective community based prevention, diversion and rehabilitation.

How local communities, voluntary and faith groups can contribute

Lammy has rightly asked what can voluntary and faith groups contribute. The answer should be a great deal in preventing individuals entering the justice system, providing rehabilitation services (mental health, drugs, employment and housing) informed by the BAME people who have been effectively supported in the past. This mostly will need to happen locally and collaboratively but nothing can happen without new resources targeted at BAME service providers.

Unacceptably, race inequalities are embedded in the justice system. We will have to wait and see if Lammy identifies and tackles head-on any institutional failings in the MoJ, the courts, HM Prison and Probation Service and providers of services in the community. BAME people will also want to know why these race inequalities persist in the justice system despite the existence of Equality Act 2010 and if the necessary resources are available for its effective implementation.

The challenge of achieving fairness in the justice system cannot be overestimated. Lammy’s review follows a succession of inquiries over the past half century with the relationship of Britain’s BAME communities and the justice system at their heart. Unfortunately, from Scarman’s report into the 1981 Brixton riots through to the McPherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence and subsequent reviews into the murder of Zahid Mubarak at HMP Feltham YOI, they have all fallen short of delivering the systemic changes that these tragic events demanded. At best, race in the justice system has languished in the lower order of institutional priorities. For example, when government contracts were awarded to Community Rehabilitation Companies to deliver community rehabilitation services equalities considerations made up only 5% of the scoring on tenders for these contracts.

The Young Review

It was within this context that BTEG, Clinks and Baroness Lola Young launched The Young Review Report (2014), an independent review into improving outcomes for black and/or Muslim young men aged 18-24 in the justice system. The Young Review confirmed that race inequalities within prisons and community rehabilitation were entrenched but tackling them was not a priority within MoJ, HM Prison Probation Service (HMPPS) and Youth Justice Board.

The Young Review Phase 2 continues to work closely with the MoJ, HMPPS, and YJB and has fully supported the Lammy Review. We all want the Lammy Review to lead to the component parts of the justice system taking a high level responsibility for delivering that change, but will the Lammy Review succeed when, despite previous reviews, race inequalities in policing, the courts and rehabilitation persist?

We have to be optimistic, determined and realistic. System and institutional culture change in the justice system will not happen overnight, it will be incremental but we should expect or demand a fair justice system within five years. Pressure from the Commission for Racial Equality led the Crown Prosecution Service to address its institutional failings that has resulted in a fairer CPS. This was achieved by strong leadership, appropriate resources being applied, an equalities directorate and peer to peer review.  

We hope Lammy’s review will highlight the continued under-representation of the BAME communities at its centre within the justice system workforce at all levels, and the marginal role played by BAME service providers and the lack of BAME policy voices nationally.

The need for BAME voluntary and community organisations capable of supporting young people, families and offenders and former offenders has never been greater. A recent Clinks/NCVO survey of the voluntary and community sector shows that organisations providing services for BAME communities are six times more likely to close in the next year than mainstream service providers.

At the national level BTEG was funded for three years in 2011 to provide a national voice for BAME justice system providers. We set up a network of 35 organisations but only a handful received grants or contracts to deliver services. This must change if we really want to build a fair and impartial justice system.     

BTEG calls on BAME communities to speak out when the Lammy Review is published:

  • Speak and write to their local councillors to make sure their local council addresses race inequalities in the youth justice system
  • Write to their Police Crime Commissioner and mayors and make sure they keep reducing Stop and Search and review the number of arrests of BAME people
  • Meet with their MPs and ask what practical steps they are taking to make sure the Lammy review recommendations are implemented
  • Use social media to raise awareness of race inequalities and call for the justice system to treat everyone fairly.  

It is crucial that BAME communities are involved not only in the delivery of justice but also throughout the governance and democratic structures of the justice system and that there is a greater role for BAME-led community organisations and faith groups.

Useful website links

The Young Review


Criminal Justice Alliance

Transition2Adulthood (T2A)

For further information contact:

Mark Blake

Jeremy Crook


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