COMMITTEE CALLS FOR NEW NATIONAL STRATEGY TO OVERCOME "SERIOUS CRISIS" OF YOUNG BLACK PEOPLE'S OVERREPRESENTATION IN THE CJS
The Government must "review, revise, redouble" its efforts to reduce the overrepresentation of young black people at all stages of the criminal justice system (CJS), concludes the report of the first sustained inquiry into the issue in more than a quarter of a century, published today by the Commons Home Affairs Committee.
The Committee concludes that the number of young black people in the criminal justice system overall, represents a "serious crisis" for sections of black communities.
The Committee says "Government action to date has made little impact" and calls for a new, national level, coherent strategy setting out the responsibility and contribution of each Department and agency to reduce overrepresentation. Evidence to the Committee painted a picture of patchy and diffuse initiatives that are often insufficiently focussed and resourced. The Committee expresses concern that, five years on from the setting up of the Criminal Justice System Race Unit to understand the extent and origins of discrimination, the Home Office is still "unable to say...with confidence why disproportionality occurs."
The Committee concludes that we can be more certain that patterns of offending vary between different ethnic groups than that the level of offending varies significantly. There was evidence that young black people were particularly overrepresented in arrests or convictions for certain types of crime, notably robbery and drugs offences (despite young black people having lower drug use levels). Black people make up 2% of the population but one third of gun homicide victims and suspects. In gun crime in London in 2006, 75% of victims and 79% of suspects were black. However, Home Office evidence to the Committee on gun crime, contradicted days later by the Prime Minster, showed confusion in the Government's approach to the issue.
In the first Offending, Crime and Justice survey, 24% of white respondents aged 10-15 admitted an offence in the last year and 1% had been arrested. Only 12% of young black people admitted an offence but 3% had been arrested.
Young black people are disproportionately likely to be stopped and searched, arrested, remanded in custody, convicted and imprisoned, and receive more punitive sentences (see accompanying "Key Facts"). The Committee expresses serious concerns about the prediction that three quarters of the young black male population will soon be on the DNA database as a consequence of disproportionate arrest rates, and observes that 'the number of young black people in custody is growing at an alarming rate".
Despite stressing the importance of deprivation as a factor in offending by young people from all communities, the Committee concludes that "there are likely to be some specific factors in young black people's experience that need to be tackled" and "that policies which do not take into account these differences are likely to be ineffective."
The primary cause of overrepresentation is social exclusion and its interrelated issues: educational underachievement and school exclusion, deprivation and poor housing.
These factors interact in a "web of disadvantage" compounded by other trends within black communities such as lack of father involvement and the lack of positive role models, and the presence of powerful alternative negative role models in media and popular culture. The school system has a central role with exclusion from school and under attainment closely correlated to overrepresentation in the CJS. A DfES report - published during the inquiry at the Committee's request - found that "a compelling case" can be made for the existence of "institutional racism" in schools.
Direct and indirect factors in the criminal justice system play a role in overrepresentation. Young black people who offend are more likely to come into contact with the system: they are more at risk of other factors linked to arrest such as association with someone known to the police, school exclusion, being homeless or in rented housing. They may be disproportionately affected by police priorities in a given area. In some instances discrimination is a direct contributor: the Committee says "stop and search" is still a cause for concern, with black people nearly twice as likely to enter the CJS as a result of it and black people of all ages six times as likely to be subjected to SAS.
The number of young black people remanded in custody before sentence is worryingly high, and there is evidence of more punitive sentences being given to black males. The perception of discrimination also contributes: mistrust of the justice system can lead young people to seek their own forms of redress or protection.
The Committee says there is considerable scope to improve existing services to be appropriate, accessible and targeted, but there is also some need for extra resources in areas such as mental health services, drug treatment and housing policy.
The Committee says a new national strategy, co-ordinated across departments and between national and local level, should include a coherent overview of what is being done at present and why it has failed. It should specify the contribution from each department and agency with regular assessments of progress (but not targets) towards reducing disproportionality.
- DfES should do more work on alternatives to full exclusion and ensuring that proper educational provision is made for excluded students, and consult on a more inclusive curriculum
- more support for positive adult role models and influences including increased support for mentoring programmes
- local authorities should adopt a strategic approach to overrepresentation, mirroring the approach for central government, and housing for young people of all ethnicities should be reviewed
- DoH should develop targeted drug treatment and mental health programmes
- the Committee were concerned that a "lack of challenge" by the Youth Justice Board was reflected in an inconsistent response by Youth Offending Teams and says they should have to demonstrate their specific strategy for support to young black people
- greater assessment of and support for initiatives that are working "on the ground" - information about successful gang exit programmes should be collected at national level and disseminated to local agencies and additional "pump prime" funding provided
Some witnesses were concerned that the media distorts perceptions of young people's involvement in crime. Research commissioned specially by the Committee for the inquiry (and published with the report) contradicted this however, indicating that most members of the public do not stereotype young black people's involvement in crime.
The Committee considered concerns that rap, grime and hip hop music, films and video games glamorise violent, criminal lifestyles. The Committee says greater censorship of broadcasters or producers is not desirable or practical, but given the impact of music and videos on young people who are already vulnerable, public service and commercial broadcasters should state how they intend to tackle these concerns - and that young people themselves should be involved in developing policy.
John Denham MP, Chairman of the Committee, said: "Five years on from setting up a dedicated Criminal Justice System Race Unit the Government is still not able to say that they understand the overrepresentation of young black people at all stages of the criminal justice system, or that it is improving.
"Our Committee spoke first hand with the agencies and organisations working with young black people on the ground, and with young people themselves. The range of factors involved - while they are complex and interact with each other - are not difficult to identify. Yet we seem to be no closer to the targeted policies to address this or to measurable success - and there is some evidence that the problem is getting worse."
Notes to editors:
1. All media inquiries and bids for the Chairman please contact Jessica Bridges Palmer on 07917 488 447.
2. Nacro, the crime reduction charity, will hold a conference to discuss the Committee's report on Tuesday the 19th of June.
3. The Committee was nominated on 13 July 2005. Its terms of reference are to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Home Office and its associated public bodies; and the administration and expenditure of the Attorney General's Office, the Treasury Solicitor's Department, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Serious Fraud Office (but excluding individual cases and appointments and advice given within government by Law Officers).
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