Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

49.  Memorandum submitted by Nacro


  1.1  Nacro is a crime reduction charity providing services nationwide including projects for individuals and communities and research, consultancy and training services for people and organisations involved in reducing crime. Nacro has a long history of working to eradicate discrimination within the criminal justice system. Within Nacro's Policy and Research Division are specialist Race and Youth Crime sections which have a history of working together with regard to matters of race equality and discrimination in the youth justice system. Nacro has been represented at a high level with regard to race matters, including the Lawrence Steering Group, and works with criminal justice agencies including the Prison Service and Local Criminal Justice Boards.

  1.2  From 2003 to 2005, Nacro was commissioned by the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (YJB) as National Development Agent for Diversity. Work with the Board was focused on race equality during that period. Most pertinently, this resulted in every youth offending team (YOT) conducting a race audit using a common template and producing an action plan as part of the statutory annual youth justice plan (from 2005). Related to this were a YJB corporate target and a key performance indicator for YOTs together aiming to reduce, year on year, disproportionate outcomes on the basis of ethnicity in the youth justice system and improve the quality of services to Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) young people.


  2.1  Nacro understands that the Committee is particularly interested in perceptions of offending by black young people, their offending patterns and overrepresentation in the youth justice system and the work that Nacro has done with the YJB and youth offending teams on race equality. Thus, the main points are:

    —  that self-report research suggests that the actual rate of offending by black young people is no higher than for other ethnic groups;

    —  that there is nevertheless a disproportionate number of black young people represented at all stages of the youth justice process; and

    —  that following Nacro's work with the YJB, YOTs have been required to take a series of steps to promote equality.


  3.1  There remains a gap between perceived and actual levels of crime. As with crime overall, youth crime appears to have been falling in recent years,[236] although the predominant perception among the public is of a rise.[237] In view of this, it is notable, and perhaps misleading, that the number of children and young people dealt with by youth offending teams for summary and indictable offences has been rising,[238] but this is perhaps a result of more proceedings for minor offending. It is likely that public perception of the proportion of crimes committed by black and other minority ethnic young people is also inaccurate, particularly the false impression that black young people are responsible for a comparatively large amount of crime.

  3.2  It is Nacro's understanding that the Committee's inquiry is to focus on those young people who are classified as Black or Black British (B/BB). There is evidence that this group is disproportionately represented at different stages of the youth justice system and that will be considered below. However, the starting point is the proportion of offences that are recorded against B/BB young people in comparison to other ethnic groups. On the face of it, statistical data may appear to suggest that B/BB young people commit a disproportionately high number of offences. However, this would be an unsafe conclusion for the reasons set out below.

  3.3  The most recent statistics (for 2004-05) indicate that B/BB young people committed 6% of offences dealt with (by youth offending teams, including those subsequently reprimanded or warned). This compares with 6.2% in 2003-04 and 5.6% in 2002-03.[239] The actual rise over the last three years for offences by B/BB young people (dealt with by YOTs) is from 15,191 to 17,216 (a rise of some 13.3%). It may be relevant to note that the number of offences where the ethnicity of the person concerned is not known has fallen quite fast over that same period, from 5.4% of the total number to 3.3% (a fall of 4,785), which may account for at least some of the change. The exact proportion of the entire population of 10-17 year olds who are B/BB is not certain but is likely to be less than 3%.[240] Here again, the raw statistics could lead to the misleading conclusion that B/BB young people are around twice as likely to commit offences as the population as a whole.

  3.4  However, there is substantial evidence to suggest that this is not the case. In a recent Home Office report,[241] it was noted that a number of reasons for disproportionality had been suggested, including discrimination on the part of the police, police recording practices, socio-demographic factors and black people spending more time visible on the streets (and therefore more likely to be identified and apprehended in the context of only about a quarter of all offences being brought to sanction).[242] The report was unable to reach a clear conclusion. Another factor playing a part may be stop and search practice. In 2003-04 it was found that black people were 6.4 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people (all age groups). Although only 7% of arrests were made following a stop and search in that period, this may be significant. The initiatives to Bridge the Gap may increase arrest rates following stop and search processes, but little evidence exists about this at present.

  3.5  More recently, the results of an important survey have been published that more strongly indicate that B/BB young people do not commit more offences than other ethnic groups.[243] This self-reporting based survey considered not only offending, but also anti-social behaviour and drug use. As well as ethnicity, it took account of age and gender. It found, for young people (largely reflecting overall findings), that black young people reported having offended to a lesser extent than white and mixed race young people (Asian young people less so). With regard to anti-social behaviour there were less pronounced differences overall. With regard to drug use, black young people were near the average, with white young people reporting the highest use, more so for Class A drugs. Researchers generally consider that self-report studies provide a more reliable measure of offending rates than other recorded crime figures, not least because they include offences/offenders that have not otherwise come to attention. In this case, the method allowed offending across ethnic groups to be compared in the context of disproportionality in recorded crime figures.

  3.6  Thus, it cannot be concluded that the over-representation of B/BB young people among those entering the criminal justice system correlates with actual offending levels. Indeed, it may be that B/BB young people commit less offences than some other ethnic groups overall. Differences may be the result of differential treatment but other factors, such as visibility and likelihood of being caught, may have an impact. Another factor might be differences in the type of offences that form any pattern according to ethnicity (for example, the nature of some offences leads to easier identification and apprehension of the offender).


  4.1  Statistical evidence suggests that B/BB young people do, overall, have a different pattern of offending to other groups in some respects. They are more likely to be charged with robbery, breach of bail and statutory orders, drugs offences, fraud and forgery. They are less likely to be charged with arson, criminal damage, burglary or public order. Of these, robbery is the most marked with B/BB young people prosecuted for around a quarter of all robberies that come to attention in the youth justice system. There is a suggestion, lacking in hard evidence at present, that differences in charging practices could have a bearing. Whilst the offence of robbery is the most striking matter in this regard nationally, there are large regional differences and further study would seem to be required.

  4.2  Because robbery is associated in this way with B/BB young people, it may have a strong influence on public perceptions overall. In this context, it is worth noting that robbery offences make up only 1.8% of juvenile offending. Thus, robbery offences recorded against B/BB young people is less than 0.5% of all offences.

  4.3  The age at which B/BB young people enter the system/commit offences may be relevant and worthy of investigation. Among the 10-17 age group, the peak age for robbery offending is low compared to most other offence types, at 15 or 16 (most offence types continue to rise to a peak at 17—or beyond). Other offence types with low peaks are arson and criminal damage, although it is robbery that falls most significantly between the ages of 16 and 17 (a drop of around a third). There is some statistical evidence to suggest, but not conclude, that B/BB young people may enter the criminal justice system at a younger age (for example, differences in remand statistics regarding those remanded in custody, age 15 or over for males, against those remanded to local authority secure accommodation, normally under 15). Further investigation with regard to cross matching offence type, disposals, age, gender and ethnicity might be useful, together with police charging practice at younger ages.


  5.1  It is well documented that B/BB young people are over-represented in custody (more so regarding longer sentences) and under-represented with regard to unconditional bail decisions and pre-court disposals (reprimands and warnings). In analysis of statistical evidence, Nacro found evidence that suggests disproportionality by ethnicity at many stages of the system, including the way in which interventions and disposals are chosen and delivered, and further differences by geography. This added weight to the recommendation made by Nacro to the YJB for an approach based on local detailed audits and action planning within YOT areas.

  5.2  The following observations are not comprehensive but provide illustration:

    —  B/BB young people experience a high number of remand episodes (including bail and custodial). In 2004-05, B/BB young people were recorded as committing 6.0% of offences and receiving 5.8% of disposals (including reprimands and warnings), whilst experiencing 9.9% of remand episodes. This reflects statistics for the previous two years. It is not easily explained but could suggest that B/BB young people have more changes in remand status, perhaps being subject to more custodial remands on first appearance, prior to subsequent release on bail. The differences might also be partly associated with higher acquittal and discontinuance rates or different quality of legal representation/instruction and bail assessments. There may be discrimination with regard to decision making.

    —  The detail of disproportionality regarding bail and remand varies considerably by area. However, across England and Wales, B/BB young people, representing 9.9% of all bail and remand episodes, experience 19.1% of remands to local authority secure accommodation, 17.0% of remands in custody and higher percentages of all other bail and remand outcomes other than unconditional bail.

    —  To illustrate the significance of more detailed investigation, it is evident that B/BB young people are more likely than the wider population to be made subject to electronic monitoring ("tagging"). At the final warning stage, where B/BB young people are given a warning, they are less likely to be supported by a programme than white young people. The evidence together suggests that black young people tend to be viewed as less suitable for "human" supervision and support and more suitable for electronic surveillance, quite possibly a result of difficulties in engagement/trust building or attitudinal differences and discrimination. On the other hand, recent research found that young black people were more likely to receive longer periods of supervision (and custody) under community sentences.[244] Analysis of each YOT area's race audits over time and/or other research might be needed to reach full conclusions with regard to this and other apparent anomalies.


  6.1  In its work with the YJB and having conducted an initial survey and analysis, Nacro supported the notion of improvement (similar outcomes for young people regardless of ethnic background) by a process of local detailed auditing and planning. Nacro worked with the YJB to develop a template and guidance to help YOTs to conduct race equality audits and action plans[245] (plans for the first year were in place from June 2005). YOTs are required (not in statute) to produce action plans annually.

  6.2  The audits were designed with a common core applicable to all YOT areas regardless of the size of BME populations (not statistically significant in all YOT areas), with a requirement for greater detail (for example, by age and gender, court area, electoral ward etc) according to the local characteristics and population. Currently, YOTs monitor ethnicity according to the main 2001 Census classifications (5+1) although there may be an intention to monitor in greater detail in the future (16+1). Yots were encouraged to audit and plan at the more detailed level where applicable locally.

  6.3  The audit process has two separate strands. The first is quantitative, investigating the detail of the youth justice system locally and identifying areas needing attention. The second is qualitative, investigating leadership and management, policy development, workforce issues, monitoring systems (for example, regarding the use of anti-social behaviour orders locally) and service delivery. Where disproportionality or poor quality is identified, YOTs are encouraged to put in place action plans to bring about improvement, year on year. It is the completion, quality and implementation of action plans that is monitored by the YJB.

  6.4  Promising though this process is for bringing about real change, it remains a requirement on youth offending teams alone, under the leadership and guidance of the YJB. To counter this weakness to some degree, guidance to YOTs stresses the need to involve other relevant agencies (police, courts, education or health for example) and partners locally and to apply a joint problem solving model, with strategic ownership at the highest levels. For example, where there are high or low levels of remands to local authority accommodation by ethnicity, the YOT should consider devising a project or research to identify the reasons and tackle problems, working with other agencies as necessary. In areas where BME populations are very small, the YOT should consider working with other agencies to ensure good quality experiences for all young people and to make an assumption that problems and lessons identified nationally or by neighboring areas might apply even in the absence of statistical evidence.

  6.5  Nacro is no longer involved directly in this national process due to the completion of the YJB National Development Agent contracts. Nacro does work with individual YOTs on a consultative basis to help with auditing and action planning. There are over 150 YOTs in England and Wales and analysis of the audits and action plans regionally and nationally will be valuable when available.

April 2006

236   See Nacro Youth Crime Briefing Some facts about children and young people who offend-2004 (March 2006). Back

237   See for example Home Office Statistical Bulletin 11/05 available at Back

238   See Chapter 7 (Young Offenders) of the Home Office report (under section 95 Criminal Justice Act 1991) Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System-2004 at Back

239   From the Youth Justice Board's annual statistics for youth justice available on Back

240   Some individual Yots have reported that the 2001 Census data may have become rapidly out of date in respect of some BME populations of young people locally. Back

241   Race and the Criminal Justice System: an overview to the complete statistics 2004-05 (2005) available at Back

242   Youth lifestyle surveys suggest as many as 90% of offences remain undetected. Back

243   Home Office Online Report 33/05, Minority ethnic groups and crime: findings from the Offending, Crime and Justice Survey 2003 (November 2005) available at Back

244   See Feilzer and Hood report to the YJB, Differences or Discrimination (2004) available at Back

245   The "toolkit" containing templates and guidance is available at Back

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