Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

13.  Memorandum submitted by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE)


    —  The CRE welcomes the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into young Black people and the criminal justice system and we believe it is timely given the recent research commissioned by the Youth Justice Board which found that ethnic minority youngsters are overrepresented in the youth justice system

    —  The CRE's submission focuses on:

    —  the relationship between ethnicity and offending;

    —  the differential treatment, experiences and outcomes for ethnic minorities in the youth justice system;

    —  police use of stop and search and its impact on trust and confidence; and

    —  use of anti-social behaviour orders and lack of ethnic monitoring


  1.  The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) was established by the Race Relations Act 1976 to:

    —  work towards the elimination of racial discrimination;

    —  promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups; and

    —  keep the working of the Act under review.

  2.  Public bodies have a duty to eliminate discrimination in the way they work and to promote equality of opportunity and good race relations. The Commission is working to help them deliver this duty.

  3.  The Race Relations 1976 as amended came into force on 2 April 2001 and imposes a general statutory duty on most public authorities—including the police service, probation service, Crown Prosecution Service, courts and prison service—to promote race equality.

  4.  The CRE's primary goal is to create an integrated society. We have defined an integrated society as being based on three inter-related principles:

    —  equality for all sections of the community—where everyone is treated equally and has a right to fair outcomes;

    —  participation by all sections of the community—where all groups in society should expect to share in decision-making and carry the responsibility of making society work; and

    —  interaction between all sections of the community—where no-one should be trapped within their own community in the people they work with or the friendships they make.

  5.  Young people are vital to creating an integrated society. The CRE is currently developing a major work programme exploring the experiences of ethnic minority children and young people across all sectors from birth to 25 years old and where they "fall out of the system". A position paper and policy recommendations are currently being finalised and should be published in the summer.

  6.  The CRE is grateful for the opportunity to make a written submission to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into young Black people and the criminal justice system. Our submission is divided into two sections: (a) general comments; and (b) comments on specific issues of concern to the CRE.


  7.  The CRE welcomes the Committee's inquiry into young Black people and the criminal justice system. It is particularly timely given that recent research commissioned by the Youth Justice Board (YJB)[113] highlighted in detail, for the first time, how ethnic minority young people had been dealt with at all the different stages of the youth justice process compared with White young people. The overall finding was that ethnic minority youngsters are overrepresented in the system.

  8.  Whilst the Committee's intention is to focus on "Black or Black British" young people, the CRE strongly believes that this narrow focus may result in vital information about the treatment and experiences of young people from other ethnic minority groups being overlooked.

  9.  For example, the research commissioned by the YJB indicates that Mixed parentage young people experience significant differences in outcome compared to other groups. There is a higher rate of prosecution and conviction of Mixed parentage young males; greater use of more restrictive community penalties; and a much greater proportion of Mixed parentage females being prosecuted. It also revealed that this group is more likely than any other group to exhibit a variety of social problems. These issues clearly need to be addressed in order to improve the life chances and outcomes for this fast-growing group.

  10.  In addition, the inquiry's terms of reference does not define "young". Although the youth justice system deals with young people under 18, there are particular issues affecting 19 to 25 year olds in the criminal justice system which the inquiry could usefully address. For example, in its report on young adults and the criminal justice system,[114] the Barrow Cadbury Trust highlights how the demarcation of a young person from an adult at the arbitrary age of 18 often leads to many young people being failed by the system. 10% of young people aged 18 to 24 have been cautioned or arrested by the police yet, although often developmentally young, the legal system treats them—as 18 or over—as an adult.



  11.  High levels of crime, particularly of juvenile offending, have been a matter of concern for many years and recently the focus has shifted to anti-social behaviour. Research has shown that there are various factors that can contribute to offending behaviour such as truancy, school exclusion, poor family relationships and lack of opportunities. The communities in which children live, the schools they attend and the families in which they are raised all have important influences on children's behaviour.

  12.  In their 2004 Youth Survey, MORI found that 60% of young people excluded from school have offended compared to 26% of young people in mainstream education. Excluded offenders are also far more likely to face serious repercussions as a result of committing an offence than offenders in mainstream education.

  13.  Given the disproportionate exclusion rates for some ethnic groups, it follows that some ethnic minority young people may be more at risk of becoming involved in crime. The fact that some ethnic minority groups are also at greater risk of becoming homeless, fare less well in the labour market, and are more at risk of poverty and social exclusion often results in those at risk of offending having multiple and complex needs.

  14.  The latest Home Office statistics[115] show that, in 2004-05, 287,013 offences involving offenders aged 10-17 were dealt with by Youth Offendng Teams (Yots). 6% of defendants classified their ethnicity as Black, 3% as Asian, 2.3% Mixed and 0.6% other. There was an increase in the level of overrepresentation of Black defendants for drugs offences and young Black people were substantially overrepresented for robbery offences, with defendants of Asian and Mixed ethnic background also showing some overrepresentation for the same offence.

  15.  Whilst the media often makes a link between ethnicity and crime—inferring that ethnic minorities are more likely to commit offences—data on self-reported offending among different ethnic groups suggests the contrary.[116] Whilst White respondents and those of Mixed origin were most likely to report offending behaviour, controlling for the age profile of the different groups, offending rates for those of Mixed ethnic origin did not differ from the national average. The survey also showed that White males aged from 10 to 25 were far more likely to have committed an offence in the last year compared with young males in other ethnic groups. The factors that were predictive of offending included: being male; being aged 17 to 25; having been a victim of violence; using drugs; being frequently drunk; having friends in trouble with the police; and having a low score on certain personality factors.

  16.  In a study of young people and street crime in London,[117] differences in levels of street crime between boroughs were found to be due to both the level of deprivation and the extent of population change. The most important factor was the proportion of dependent children living in households with no adult earner and this impacted disproportionately on ethnic minority young people. Ethnic minority young people were likely to live in deprived areas where crime is high and personal circumstances put them at greater risk of becoming involved in crime.

  17.  Bullying also played a significant part in the increase of young people's involvement in street crime. Many young people judged each other on image and being unable to meet particular standards made youngsters vulnerable to bullying. Street crime provided a way of affirming their tough image to others. The issue of absent fathers as well as alienation from mainstream education after moving to secondary school were also contributory factors.

  18.  Efforts have been made by government to tackle the early signs of offending behaviour through initiatives such as Positive Futures, Positive Activities for Young people and On Track, by diverting children into more purposeful activities. However, the extent to which these initiatives have been successful for ethnic minority young people is unknown, as evaluations rarely examine this.

  19.  However, the CRE was particularly concerned by findings from the evaluation of Positive Futures that, in one area, there had been a racial division of provision and that some practitioners had displayed stereotypical conceptions of people from ethnic minority groups. These frequently demonised ethnic minority groups as "different" and as a threat to the safety of the "indigenous" population.[118] These findings are very disturbing and show that a great deal of work is needed to determine whether initiatives aimed at diverting young people from offending are indeed having a positive impact on ethnic minority participants.

Ethnic minorities and the youth justice system

  20.  In its Annual Review 2003-04, the YJB commented on the "growing body of data suggesting that Black and minority ethnic (BME) young people receive disproportionate sentence outcomes and disposals ... When compared with the previous year, it suggests that this disproportion is increasing".

  21.  The YJB commissioned two pieces of work to determine the underlying causes of disproportionality. The first, a study by NACRO, found a lack of ethnic monitoring of service delivery; performance measures that did not touch on diversity and equalities issues; and ethnic minorities being more likely to be prosecuted.

  22.  In the second, the University of Oxford investigated 17,054 case decisions to assess whether there was evidence of discrimination in the outcomes for ethnic minority young people.[119] Eight Yot areas were chosen—seven with relatively high concentrations of ethnic minority young people and one rural area with a relatively low concentration.

  23.  Many of the findings were similar to those of NACRO, including:

    —  large differences between White and ethnic minority young people, male and female, in the youth justice system as a result of the differential inflow of cases;

    —  considerable variations in the extent of over- or under-representation of particular ethnic groups in relation to the proportions of the populations served by the 8 Yots—"justice by race and geography";

    —  at various points of the decision making processes, differences in outcome in the treatment of comparable White, Black, Asian and Mixed-parentage young people, as well as between males and females; and

    —  "holes" in the data collection systems, particularly the high number of cases where no ethnicity information was recorded and problems with the identification of young people of Mixed-parentage.

  24.  The research also included interviews with Yot managers and practitioners. 75% felt that ethnic minority young people were not treated fairly in the youth court, with 61% stating that this lack of fairness was reflected in differential outcomes for ethnic minority young people.

  25.  As in the evaluation of Positive Futures, the interviews also revealed that stereotypes persisted among Yot practitioners relating to views of different ethnic groups and the offences they committed; what a "good family" should look like; and what constitutes good parenting. In addition, Asset—the YJB's assessment tool—was described as being "very standardised, Eurocentric and `white'".

  26.  Although research in this area is still extremely limited, the evidence so far suggests that significant improvement is needed in the way in which Yots engage and work with ethnic minority young people. It is hoped that the introduction of the YJB's corporate target for achieving equal treatment by different ethnic groups at a local level will assist this process.

Stop and search

  27.   Police use of stop and search continues to be a contentious issue which frequently fuels mistrust and lack of confidence in the police amongst ethnic minority young people. The overrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the youth justice system begins with the disproportionate number of young people stopped and searched. In England and Wales in total in 2003-04, young people aged between 10 and 20 accounted for nearly two fifths of all police stops and searches.[120]

  28.  Stop and search data is not published by ethnicity and age; therefore, it is not possible to know how many of those aged between 10 and 20 years old were from ethnic minority communities. However, for all stops and searches, Black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched and Asian people two times more likely.[121] The CRE was particularly concerned about the huge increase (302%) in the number of Asians stopped and searched under the Terrorism Act 2000 in 2002-03, sparking fears that police are disproportionately targeting Muslims. Although the numbers of Asians being stopped and searched has decreased slightly over the last two years,[122] there is still considerable concern that racial profiling may be a factor in determining the use of stop and search.

  29.  A recent study[123] on young people's experiences of policing found that they believed that the police abuse their powers and target young Black people without reasonable suspicion. The over-use of stop and search within ethnic minority communities had an extremely negative impact on their trust and confidence in the police and often resulted in antagonism towards the police.

  30.  Stop and search is a key gateway into the criminal justice system and for those ethnic minority young people living in high crime areas with a heavy police presence, the fact that they are more likely to be subject to stop and search increases their risk of becoming involved in the youth justice system.

Anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs)

  31.  A total of 7,356 ASBOs have been issued from April 1999, when they were introduced, to September 2005 with wide variations between different criminal justice areas. Although ASBOs were originally intended to be used mainly for adults, increasingly it has become a measure directed primarily against children.

  32.  In 2004-05 of the 5557 orders made, 44% were on children and a recent survey of 54 Yots suggested that one in three children were unable to fully comprehend the conditions of their orders because of learning or communication difficulties. In addition, preliminary findings of research being carried out by the British Institute for Brain Injured Children suggests that as many as 1 in 3 of all ASBOs issued to people aged under 17 years were to children with a diagnosed mental disorder or accepted learning difficulty. Many organisations and the Children's Commissioner for England have expressed concern that ASBOs are used too readily for children without proper consideration of alternative interventions.

  33.  The CRE's principal concern is that there is no ethnic monitoring of the use of ASBOs. There is also no data on breaches of ASBOs by ethnic minority young people and a concern about "up-tariffing", ie where breaches result in custody for groups who might not previously have reached that stage that fast. Evidence suggests that around 10 young people a week are imprisoned this way.


  34.  Although research and data is limited, the available evidence does show that ethnic minority young people experience differences in outcomes in the youth justice system that are indicative of discriminatory treatment. The causes of this differential treatment remain unknown and the CRE is about to commission research to explore this further. This research will enable government, criminal justice agencies and practitioners to have a better understanding of the underlying causes of differential treatment of ethnic minority young people and assist in developing policies and strategies to tackle this.

  35.  Involvement in the youth justice system can significantly affect the life chances of ethnic minority young people and much more work is needed to address the causes of their overrepresentation in the system and to ensure that the system is fair and free from discrimination. As the youth justice system is the entry point to the adult criminal justice system, any disproportionality at this level is very likely to continue throughout. Early intervention is vital to improving the life chances of ethnic minority young people.

April 2006

113   Feilzer, M and Hood, R (2004) Differences or discrimination? Minority ethnic young people in the youth justice system. London: Youth Justice Board. Back

114   Barrow Cadbury Trust (2005) Lost in Transition: A Report of the Barrow Cadbury Commission on Young Adults and the Criminal Justice System. Back

115   Home Office (2006) Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System-2005. A Home Office publication under section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. Back

116   Sharp, C and Budd, T (2005) Minority ethnic groups and crime: findings from the Offending, Crime and Justice Survey 2003. Home Office Online Report 33/05. Back

117   FitzGerald, M, Stockdale, J and Hale, C (2003) Young People and Street Crime: Research into young people's involvement in street crime. Youth Justice Board. Back

118   Crabbe, T (2006) "In the Boot Room": Organisational contexts and partnerships. Second Interim National Positive Futures Case Study Research Report. Back

119   Feilzer, M and Hood, R (2004) Differences or discrimination? Minority ethnic young people in the youth justice system. London: Youth Justice Board. Back

120   Barrow Cadbury Trust (2005) Lost in Transition: A Report of the Barrow Cadbury Commission on Young Adults and the Criminal Justice System. Back

121   Home Office (2006) Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System-2005. A Home Office publication under section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. Back

122   It is important to note that post-July 7 stop and search data is not yet available. Back

123   Sharp, D (2005) Serve and Protect? Black young people's experiences of policing in the community. The Children's Society. Back

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