Select Committee on Home Affairs Second Report


SUMMARY


Summary

It is important to place young black people's overrepresentation in perspective: in 84.7% of offences in 2004-05 involving young offenders aged 10-17, the young people involved classified their ethnicity as white. In 2003-04, 92% of black young people aged 10-17 were not subject to disposals in the youth justice system. However, statistics show that young black people are overrepresented at all stages of the criminal justice system. Black people constitute 2.7% of the population aged 10-17, but represent 8.5% of those of that age group arrested in England and Wales. As a group, they are more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, less likely to be given unconditional bail and more likely to be remanded in custody than white young offenders. Young black people and those of 'mixed' ethnicity are likely to receive more punitive sentences than young white people.

Data gaps prevent us from building a comprehensive picture of young black people's overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. However, the evidence we received suggests young black people are overrepresented as suspects for certain crimes such as robbery, drugs offences and—in some areas—firearms offences. Young black people are also more likely to be victims of violent crimes. There are variations in the overrepresentation of different groups within the 'black' category, and between females and males. We can say with greater certainty that the patterns of offending vary between different ethnic groups than that the level of offending varies significantly.

Some of our witnesses were concerned that the media distorts perceptions of young black people's involvement in crime. Research commissioned by this Committee contradicted this view, indicating that most members of the public reject stereotyping as regards young black people's involvement in crime.

Social exclusion is a key underlying cause of overrepresentation. Eighty per cent of Black African and Black Caribbean communities live in Neighbourhood Renewal Fund areas. Deprivation directly fuels involvement in some types of offence—such as acquisitive crime—and also has an important impact on educational achievement and the profile of the neighbourhood young people will live in. The level of school exclusions appears to be directly related to educational underachievement and both are linked to involvement in the criminal justice system.

Witnesses also emphasised factors within black communities which help exacerbate disadvantage and fuel involvement in the criminal justice system. They drew attention to a lack of father involvement and to other parenting issues. In the perceived absence of alternative routes to success, some young people also actively choose to emulate negative and violent lifestyles popularised in music and film.

Criminal justice system factors play an important role in promoting overrepresentation. There is some evidence to support allegations of direct or indirect discrimination in policing and the youth justice system. However, the perception as well as the reality of discrimination has an impact. Lack of confidence in the criminal justice system may mean some young black people take the law into their own hands or carry weapons in an attempt to distribute justice and ensure their own personal safety.

A coherent strategy to address the overrepresentation of young black people in the criminal justice system is needed to draw together departments' responses and set challenging goals to reduce overrepresentation. Within this strategy, further action is needed to address the causes of crime among young black people—entrenched poverty, educational underachievement, school exclusions, family conflict and breakdown and lack of positive role models. Some of this support will be aimed at all young black people and some should target specific at-risk groups, such as prison leavers. Finally, further action is needed to address both the realities and perceptions of criminal justice system discrimination and ensure the system meets young black peoples' needs





 
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Prepared 15 June 2007