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Shocking report reveals disproportionate number of young people in prison are black teens, writes Patrick Vernon.

BLACK MEN and their relationship with police and the criminal justice system reached a new plateau because of the high-profile deaths of chokehold victim Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

Campaign slogans such as ‘Black lives matter’ and ‘I can’t breathe’ are reminders of the harsh legacy of enslavement and modern-day structural racism that linger today.

A new report led by Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey, with the support of the Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG) and prison charity Clinks, launched on December 10 highlighted the experiences of Black and Muslim men aged between 18 and 24 in the criminal justice system in Britain.

The Young Review, as it is known, established a taskforce made up of representatives from the voluntary, statutory, private and academic sectors with knowledge and expertise in this area.

ROUNDTABLE

Since Autumn 2013, it has held roundtable discussions, visited prisons and voluntary sector organisations working in criminal justice and met with offenders and ex-offenders in order to make recommendations to government and providers of criminal justice services.

It found that the numbers of young black and/or Muslim men in the criminal justice system in England and Wales have reached critical levels.

The racial disparity in the UK prison population is now worse than in the US and black and minority prisoners report worse experiences of prison life than their white counterparts.

While this issue is recognised by government ministers and statutory agencies, there has been a lack of action to address this issue.

That is why The Young Review was established – to ensure that as part of the Ministry of Justice’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, action is taken to tackle this inequality.

In prison, black or mixed origin service users are subject to higher rates of adjudication than white service users, spend more days than average in segregation and are more frequently subject to the use of force.

One prisoner who shared his experience with Baroness Young said: “Many of us accept responsibility for our actions, which brought us here. We wish to be able to serve our sentences in a humane environment and to be able to return back into our communities and contribute to society. But if we leave prison disillusioned, downtrodden and mentally abused then all that occurs is the creation of angry men.”

With the upcoming General Election, the timing of The Young Review is important.

INCENTIVISE

It makes clear that mechanisms must be developed to incentivise criminal justice agencies and the new providers of probation services to meet the specific needs of these young men.

They must be rigorously monitored on how they tackle inequality – not just reduce reoffending.

Baroness Lola Young has set a challenge for any new government: “This issue must now be placed at the top of the criminal justice agenda to ensure that the critical levels of young black and/or Muslim men in our prisons experiencing what are acknowledged, within criminal justice agencies, to be significantly poorer outcomes than their white counterparts are addressed. We cannot afford for another report on the subject to gather dust: we need vigorous, committed leadership to drive the agenda forward.”

One of the recommendations is ring-fenced funding for BME-led organisations to work in partnership with the criminal justice system to provide support for offenders to change their lives.

The review found that such partnerships were able to improve prisoners’ perceptions of and relationships with
institutions.

It is important that organisations and individuals – including offenders and ex-offenders themselves – with an understanding of the experience of this group, should play an integral role in the planning and delivery of services.

Jeremy Crook, director of BTEG, highlighted the importance of the report. “The Young Review comes at a time of major change in our rehabilitative services and makes a strong case for the criminal justice system to improve the custodial and non-custodial support services it provides for significant and growing numbers of young black and Muslim men”, he said.

STEREOTYPES

“Young black and Muslim men want to be respected and encouraged as individuals and not viewed and treated through the lens of negative stereotypes. Better services for young black and Muslim men will result in reductions in reoffending rates and less money spent on repeating the cycle over and over again.”

This is not the first time that there have been reviews of this nature. However, as Clive Martin, director of Clinks, explained: “Over previous decades there have been various reviews and inquiries into this issue but not enough progress has been made. This is now a chance to make sure that at a time of huge change for the criminal justice sector these issues are addressed so that we build public confidence in the effectiveness of good rehabilitation.”

The report highlights the following shocking data:
• There is greater disproportionality in the number of black people imprisoned in the UK, compared to the general population, than in the US
• Black people account for 13.1 per cent of the prison population, compared with the approximately 3.3 per cent population recorded in the 2011 Census
• Since 2002, the percentage of Muslims in prisons in England and Wales has nearly doubled from 7.7 per cent to 13.4 per cent. In comparison, Muslims make up only 4.2 per cent of the general population
• Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) representation in the prison population is also heavily influenced by age; there are proportionately many more young BME male prisoners than older ones, with BME representation in the 15-17 age group the highest at 43.7 per cent

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