Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

5.  Memorandum submitted by Shaun Bailey

  There are well documented reasons why young black men are overrepresented in the criminal justice system (CJS). They are as follows:

    —  Institutional racism.

    —  Public perception around black people and crime.

    —  The type of crime that young black men are generally involved in (street crime).

  My take on the situation is based on three main points, (1) you: the establishment, (2) us: the black community/parents (3) outside influences: society/commercial exploitation.

  You: the establishment—their failure to deal with the black community to challenge them as parents. One of the key determining factors of how well a child does is down to the educational level of the parents, both social and academic. You have made us dangerous and exotic due to multiculturalism, so they won't challenge the black community for fear of offending us.

  Poor housing is a major issue. We generally live in poor areas physically and mentally. Our children spend more time out of the house due to lack of space in the house. (overcrowding) which leads to more unsupervised time in which the power of the peer group grows. No room to eat together, a very important family activity/no room to study affect educational attainment/no place or chance for the parents to relax leads to stressed parents. Poor housing is depressing and can be very bad for people's health, both physical and mental. These two things rob children of hope. Which leads to a "I don't care" attitude, this is why many young black children are not concerned with the repercussions of being involved with the law.

  Poor schools—education is a key factor in the development of the black community. We need more black teachers; we need to do everything we can to raise the educational attainment of black boys in particular setting. Things such as after school activities would be hugely important. In addition, schools need to give a great moral and disciplinary output, to combat the overwhelming power of the peer group and outside influences, such as commercial exploitation and prevailing liberalism in our media around areas such as sexual conduct. Much of the media our children are exposed to is misogynistic, highly violent and acts as an advert for inappropriate behaviour by young people. You the establishment have done very little to challenge the commercial exploitation of our young people. In addition, young black people are always portrayed as singers or sport people and not as bankers, doctors, managing directors and other white collar roles. This robs us of any realistic ambitions. There need to be systems built that keep young black men and their parents engaged in the education system for longer with an emphasis on high academic achievement, not only vocational study.

  We need a justice system that puts young people off crime early without criminalising them, as our current system does not act as a deterrent for children either black or white. The current system is toothless until you have been caught up in it for sometime, then it bites your head off. An example of this is how many times young people being monitored by youth offending teams breach their bail conditions. They feel they are getting away with it until they get a custodial sentence. They have no respect for the system until it's too late, this needs to be changed. Parents should also be held accountable for the actions of their children in a more direct way than they are now. We also need a national debate around what is an acceptable level of parenting, as there are great disparities from community to community and class to class. We need a minimum standard set in Britain, if necessary in law.

  There is currently no financial incentive to marry. Single parents do better in the tax and benefit system. The help for married/two parent families should be increased because statistics show that children from married/two parent families do better in almost all areas. So we should encourage married families and not feel bad about supporting them financially.

  Us: the way in which our children are socialised, currently means that peer pressure/peer group has become more powerful than any authority figure or their families (family structure has been weakened).

  As a community we need to strengthen our family base, be inward looking to solve some of our own problems. We need to encourage our family groups to stay together; we need to encourage our young men to take responsibility for their children and their families. We should be steering our young people away from single parenthood and benefit dependency. We need to make achievement seem possible credible and desirable within our communities.

  Outside influences—Liberalism in our media eg pornographic and misogynistic material confuse messages to parents and young people eg the reclassification of cannabis, abortions for girls as young as 14 years without their parents' knowledge, has normalised many aspects of teenage behaviour that lead to criminality. Certain sections of the British population are more vulnerable to these things, poorer communities and in particular black communities.

  My young people call it "Ghetto Mentality", they'll tell you how they're "on road" and how they have to "go out there", because they need a lot of money. "On road" means that they're out in the world trying to get on—by any means necessary a world in which your normal rules don't apply, taking adult decisions and taking on adults, even through criminal activity. In short there's a fatalism that they will end up in crime, pregnant or experience violence etc. Although that is a small proportion of our young people, it's growing, it's bigger than in the white community, and big enough to affect the behaviour of the black youngsters in general. Many black boys feel they have to be a "Bad Man" in order to survive.

  Black people are looked upon as criminals and therefore it becomes a self fulfilling prophesy, this removes the hope from black children that they can progress through normal avenues. This is one of the ways the "Ghetto Mentality" This is where role models and greater educational attainment are of the utmost importance.

  Commercial exploitation—our young people are mercilessly exploited on a commercial level (as are all children/young people) and this has created a want of material things. It's given them the mentality to have everything now, they are living in a fantasy world, where these false under-balanced messages take on an unreal importance. They have an ingrained world view that they are entitled to these things; no one has spoken to them about the hard work involved in getting these things. Much of the music they listen to tells them exactly this, reinforcing this message. It's also extremely violent and this plays into their narrow world view.

  Music and magazines trivialise women and normalise risky sexual behaviour contributing directly to the youth pregnancy and sexual health issues as well as our teenage drinking epidemic. This is because young men get to set the sexual agenda for young women, all of these factors play into the ghetto mentality and the "Kidulthood" way of life, which steers our young people from our socially accepted norms and tunnels them into a crime riddled existence.

  My final point is this. The black community needs to be congratulated on the progress we have made in the last 50 years; this will encourage our community to keep on with this difficult process.

  All these issues and many more I haven't mentioned here, impact on the black community; they also impact on the poorer white communities just as hard. If these things are not addressed soon we have a social nightmare on our hands which could have been avoided.

Shaun Bailey

Youth Worker

August 2006

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