Barrow Cadbury Trust (BCT) welcomes the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) report “Tackling Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System: 2018 Update” one year on from the launch of the landmark Lammy Review. The Government should be praised for its commitment to this agenda and its willingness to be transparent regarding its intentions to reduce BAME disproportionality in the justice system.
BCT is committed to developing the criminal justice system. Its view is that the criminal justice system was, and remains, principally designed to respond to crimes committed by men. Although a separate approach to children has been successfully developed over time, the system still fails to adequately account for the distinct needs and contexts of particular groups in society, such as young adults, women and those from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. Changes are needed in policy and practice. To achieve this, a better evidence base of where the system is failing, and what can be done to change it, is required. By funding and disseminating research, policy and good practice, and by campaigning with others for change, the Trust seeks to influence the organisations that comprise the criminal justice system to implement the evidence, improve the way that services are designed, and support it to achieve better social and economic outcomes.
BCT has a particular focus, across all its programmes, on racial justice and to this end uses its resources, and works in partnership with others, to reduce ethnic and faith-based inequalities. One current example of this is its co-convening of the Funders for Race Equality Alliance, which has taken a keen interest in the Lammy Review and the Race Disparity Audit. BCT supports Equal (formerly the Young Review), the chair of Equal, Iqbal Wahhab OBE, has commented here on the 2018 Update report. BCT echoes the response by Equal and encourages the MoJ to involve Equal in its policy development. We share Equal’s concerns that the Secure Schools development and the obligations set out in the Equality Act and Public Sector Equality Duty are not referenced in the 2018 Update.
BCT was particularly pleased by MoJ’s response to the collection and analysis of data as David Lammy MP says, ‘data provides insight, insight leads to action’. Greater granularity of the broad BAME category is important and MoJ will benefit from the 18+1 categorisation system and by extending the Relative Rate Index analysis.
Maturity and young adults
The creation of a dedicated youth disproportionality team is a positive development and with its remit to look at a child’s experiences before engagement with the police will provide significant insight into the circumstances that create offending behaviour. However, the Trust has long argued through its support of the Transition to Adulthood campaign that creating a distinct approach for 18 to 25 year olds in the justice system. We urge the Government to build on the experiences of the youth disproportion team will and create a dedicated team for young adults.
Recommendation 17 in the Lammy Review called for the MoJ to develop a method to assess the maturity of offenders. We are pleased to read that the maturity assessment tool following a successful pilot will be rolled out across prisons and will be used by probation staff, but are very concerned that changes in the system, low morale and the dangerous state of some of our prisons will limit the use and effectiveness of the tool. The MoJ should go on to extend youth justice provisions to young adults who are assessed as having low maturity as advocated by David Lammy MP.
BCT is supporting The University of Sheffield to conduct an analysis of the trends in reducing young adults in the criminal justice system. The work will identify key changes in the operation of the criminal justice system over a 10 year period, enabling a timeline of key events to be plotted against the trends in outcomes. Further analysis of the general trends will provide a nuanced narrative on gender ethnicity and geographic area. The work is due for publication in spring 2019 and we look forward to discussing its conclusions, and action to further reduce engagement, with MoJ colleagues.
Women, faith groups and Gypsy, Roma and Travellers
As evidenced in the Prison Reform Trust report ‘Counted Out: Black, Asian and minority ethnic women in the criminal justice system’, Black women are more likely to be remanded or sentenced to custody and are more likely to be sole parents when imprisoned. The recent Muslim Hands report ‘Invisibility – Female, Muslim, Imprisoned’ which was supported by BCT shows the acute difficulties of Muslim women re-entering local communities following custody. We encourage the judiciary, MoJ and HMPPS to review the experiences of BAME and minority faith women and make good on their ambition to develop culturally informed practice. The BAME voluntary sector has undisputed expertise in supporting these groups of women but is widely recognised to be starved of funds. Commissioning agencies must ensure that local and national BAME organisations supporting those in the criminal justice system are properly supported both independently and through genuine partnerships with larger voluntary, contracted service delivery providers and statutory organisations.
BCT welcomes the long overdue focus on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people in the justice system, but intent is not enough – the system will be judged on outcomes. To this end, we hope that the cross sector working group in the MoJ vigorously pursues a better understanding of the experiences of Gypsies, Roma and Traveller communities. We encourage the MoJ to work with relevant support groups when developing the HMPPS action plan and develop regular engagement forums for candid dialogue.
BCT has been working with a range of Muslim groups to understand the experiences on Muslims in the CJS and the impact the CJS has on the family and wider Muslim community. Often a counter-terrorism narrative is mentioned when discussing Muslims in the CJS: less than 1% of Muslims are in custody for terrorism offences, but prisoners consistently report a widely-held assumption the prison system treats them as potential extremists. These prejudicial assumption need to be addressed and the BCT has worked with Muslim Hands, Arooj, Maslaha and others to develop a culturally competent narrative with faith and community used to support offenders in custody and the community from further offending. We plan to hold a conference on this issue this summer.
An area in which urgent action is needed is the current criminal records regime. Lammy Review recommendation 35 is very clear and relates to the criminal records regime and the cost of unemployment among ex-offenders, but we have not seen any evidence of action. If the MoJ is not going to pursue this recommendation it should clearly articulate why not. However BCT encourages the MoJ to reassess its response and take into account the findings from Baroness McGregor Smith’s review on Race in the Workplace.
BCT encourages the MoJ to commit to a yearly update report to maintain momentum and hold MoJ staff to account for progress. The MoJ also needs to give their staff the freedom to identify disparity and provide them with the tools for reform. Here are some questions and ideas for future development the MoJ and the Government to consider:
- Is there a role for the Cabinet Office to develop good practice advice and support for voluntary membership oversight bodies? The Lammy Review highlighted the importance of scrutiny and oversight to reduce disproportionality. Voluntary membership oversight bodies are very often highly localised and variable in effectiveness whether they monitor police stop and search or are located in prisons with peer members overseeing Incentive and Earned Privilege decisions.
- Will the MoJ (and all Government departments) future proof IT builds from inception through to testing and development to consider equalities and reduce disproportionate outcomes? This is especially important as algorithms and machine learning increasingly take on decision making functions in criminal justice and there is a very significant risk that existing disparities will be hard-wired into machine learning.
- How will the MoJ track new initiatives in the justice system and ensure they do not lead to more disproportionality? For example what impact will the revised prison categorisation system have on BAME people in custody?
- In section 23 of the 2018 Update report the Government reports in engagement with countries on progress to address racial disparity. Will the Government share the innovative thinking it has been presented with and ensure that it influences future policy development?
BCT is committed to reducing the disproportionate number of BAME people in the CJS. We will continue to work with Equal and others to provide advice and support to Government and the MoJ on this urgent social issue.