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Tackling the youth justice crisis for BAME children must involve addressing their treatment by the Police

The Lammy review into the treatment and outcomes for Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in the criminal justice system was launched in September and the Government responded just before Christmas. Lammy cited the youth justice system as his ‘biggest concern’ with a near decade of improving outcomes for white children and a simultaneous deterioration of those experienced by BAME children.

But what Lammy’s review clearly demonstrated was that although youth justice was the area where he had most concerns, the terms of reference of his review did not provide the scope for him to map out a route to comprehensively address the challenge. What happens in what could be described as the pathways into the youth justice system in education, the care system and children and adolescent mental health services are critical along with policing.

When we look into what is happening around policing and BAME children, the figures and, we believe, the underlying culture is a major cause for concern. In our view, this problematic culture is demonstrated by a lack of recognition of the problem by the police and statutory partners which could be in breach of their statutory obligations.

For example, research by the Howard League for Penal Reform found that, although across England and Wales police forces made fewer than 88,000 arrests of children in total in 2016, BAME children accounted for 26% of all child arrests. The Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) research has revealed that in 2016 more than a third (36%) of children detained overnight in police cells in England were from BAME backgrounds. We think there is a pattern of ethnic disproportionality in policing which is impacting on BAME children and young people.

That’s why BTEG and CRAE, with the support of a number of knowledgeable organisations in the field of children’s services and race equality, have written to Sir Tom Winsor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS). We are requesting that conducts a national thematic review into the treatment of children and young people from BAME groups with specific focus on police forces’ legal duties with regards to safeguarding children and their duties under the Equality Act 2010.

One of the forces we are most concerned about is the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). Some of the MPS’s  own data (obtained through CRAE’s Freedom of Information requests and detailed in this briefing) shows stop and search is used disproportionately on BAME children in London with over half (54%) of all stop and searches on children in 2016 being o BAME children (with the disparity starkest in relation to black boys and young men who accounted for 37% of all stops and searches).

  • In 2016 at least 540 children in London were subjected to `more thorough’ or `strip searches’ with BAME children accounting for 71% of these intrusive searches.

  • In 2016, 8275 children were detained overnight in MPS custody. Nearly two thirds of these children were from BAME backgrounds (with black children accounting for 41% of all children detained overnight).

  • In 2008 after Tasers were introduced, MPS officers used them on children 9 times. Yet in the first 9 months of 2016 alone Tasers were used 118 times (including being fired 5 times.) Nearly 70% of these uses in 2016 were on BAME children.

  • From December 2016 to July 2017, the MPS conducted an initial pilot of the use of spit hoods in five custody suites. Since then the trial of the devices was rolled out to all custody suites in London. By the end of September 2017 there had been at least 7 uses of spit hoods on children (the youngest child being 15 years old.) Of these, four uses were on BAME children.

A national thematic review would provide an opportunity to address highly pertinent questions regarding the legal obligations and policy frameworks that the police work within and address crucial questions around the underlying policing culture in relation to BAME children.

CRAE and BTEG set out a number of key questions in the letter to Sir Tom including:

  • Is there effective and regular monitoring in place, including analysis of data by ethnicity?

  • Are regular equality impact assessments conducted across all policing activities which include an element of external challenge and are they published and used to develop improvement action plans? This is a requirement under the Equality Act.

  • Are disparities that are evident in force’s own data underpinned by differential treatment and stereotypes of BAME children and young people? Are forces acknowledging the potential for institutionalising differential treatment and how are they tackling this?

  • Is challenge given to the force through local multi-agency arrangements established to safeguard children and are these partners challenging forces on disproportionate treatment of BAME children and young people?

If we want to meet the challenge David Lammy has set around BAME children and youth justice we have to address policing. At BTEG we hope Sir Tom Winsor will carry out this review which could provide a much needed objective analysis of the current position.



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