Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 590 - 599)



  Q590  Chairman: Thank you for coming. This is the final session of the inquiry into Young Black People and the Criminal Justice System. Baroness Scotland, it is quite clear that the great majority of young black people are not involved in the criminal justice system. However, in our evidence, we have had Lee Jasper, who works for the Mayor of London, saying we have quite literally a crisis in the black community amongst our young people; Superintendent Leroy Logan of Hackney Police referred to the "self-destruction" of some communities of young people who "see their youth affiliations as more important than the norms and values of society". Those are two quite different witnesses saying that there is a real concern about where we are with some young black people at the moment. Do you accept that what these witnesses are describing is a reality?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I accept that there is a real issue in relation to violence and indeed criminality amongst young people as a whole. I also accept that in certain areas, particularly in the most deprived areas in our country, there are features which reflect that dysfunction and that black and minority ethnic young people are particularly affected by that. I am not sure whether implicit in the suggestion is that this is an issue which affects black young people and not young people generally in the deprived areas of our country.

  Q591  Chairman: The witnesses need to speak for themselves but the evidence we have heard from quite a number of witnesses to this inquiry, whilst they have said that similar things happen, similar levels of crime take place amongst groups of young white people, is that nonetheless there are some quite specific features of the way in which crime is developing, the way the response to crime is developing, amongst young black people which are quite distinct and the fact they are not just the same requires different responses. Are you saying you do not think that is the case, that identifying young black people is a problem in the way in which we approach this issue?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I am saying that what we have seen with all types of offenders is that you have to look at the socio, cultural and economic factors which influence their offending. For instance, if one were to look at women's offending, it takes a different pattern, in the main, to male offending. There are different parts of the country where you will see different trends, which are influenced by the culture in which those individuals sit. I think it is important to identify whether there are significant cultural differences and other socioeconomic differences which create criminogenic factors, which draw you to a different conclusion. I am saying that I am a little wary of the suggestion that those factors are dependent solely on the colour of the individual's skin and not the position in which they find themselves.

  Q592  Chairman: Perhaps I could draw you out. What would you say the cultural factors are we might be looking at?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: If you look at the questions of displacement, the length of time that people have been in the country, the nature of the areas in which they live, I know this committee is only too familiar with the fact that around 70% of people from ethnic minorities live in the 88 most deprived local areas. If you then look at the criminogenic factors which are indicative of those who end up in our prisons, we see that failure to get a job, failure to get accommodation, failure to keep appropriate education, low attainment, all of these features impact negatively on those who end up in the criminal justice system. There is a disproportionality in the representation there.

  Q593  Chairman: Would you say that those factors are sufficient to explain why young black people are so overrepresented in the criminal justice system and indeed that overrepresentation appears to be getting worse?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We have to analyse those factors. You know that we have been analysing those for quite some time. What I am resisting, I suppose, is the suggestion that there are separate distinct cultural factors which are simply predicated on black and minority ethnic individuals' culture which predisposes them to behave in a way which is criminal. I do not know, Chairman, whether that is what you are suggesting to me because, if you are, then I would be resisting it.

  Q594  Chairman: Let me just look at some of the work the Home Office has done. The Criminal Justice System Race Unit was set up five years ago. One of the Ministers responsible for that, Paul Goggins, said that the aim was to get behind the surface of statistics and understand the process through which discrimination may be occurring. That was set up five years ago. The Home Office submission to us states that it is "unable to say with confidence ... why disproportionality occurs". It does not look, on the face of it, as though the Home Office has made very much progress in understanding why disproportionality happens, let alone any progress in reducing it.

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: If I may respectfully say so, that would be unfair. One of the things we have all had to try and do is to look at the datasets. We have not always had the data as to how things actually occur. One of the things that we have done is to look at the whole of the criminal justice system, to look at every stage, because we know, from the figures that we now have, that there is inexplicable disproportionality at every stage of the process. We have disproportionality on arrest, disproportionality in terms of charge, disproportionality in terms of result in court, disproportionality in terms of sentence and disproportionality in sentence length. What we have tried to do is to unpack those systems to better understand where the change occurs. We look at the work we have done on stop and search action teams and at practical policies that we can implement to see whether we can make a difference on disproportionality. As we roll those out, we have seen that disproportionality has changed. In one area where there was disproportionality of 4 to 1, as a result of operating the stop and search action plan protocol, it is now 2 to 1, so it is coming down. I think it would be unfair to say that we are not (a) addressing this issue aggressively, but (b) starting—and I think there is a level of acute frustration that we have not been able to get to the kernel of this more quickly—to find the things that will make the difference and starting to employ those tools to change the picture.

  Q595  Chairman: The difficulty that the Committee has is that disproportionality would be very familiar to anybody who was looking at these issues five years ago. You mention stop and search. I wonder if you can mention any other areas where you say in the last five years the Home Office has actually made real progress in reducing disproportionality.

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We have made progress in reducing disproportionality in staffing levels across the criminal justice system, and I think the Committee has seen the figures where we have a much more representative workforce; the work that we are doing through the CPS in terms of the charging of offences has made a difference. If you then look at the ability that we now have to address issues of race and disproportionality in the police force and the approach that we are taking there, all of these have an advantage, but I think we need to look more broadly. We know that those who come into the criminal justice system are affected by factors which are outwith the criminal justice system. If you then look at what we are doing across the Government and at disproportionality in terms of outcome and performance there, it would be fair to say that we have made a significant step change.

  Q596  Chairman: It would be fair to say, would it not, that in terms of the actual outcomes of these processes, there are relatively few places you can point to where we have made significant improvements across the board?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: One of the most important, surely, is in relation to confidence. One of the things we have been grappling with for a long time is the confidence black and minority people have in the criminal justice system.

  Q597  Chairman: We are talking about young black people in the criminal justice system and reducing disproportionality there. As far as we can see, there has not been any significant reduction in the overrepresentation of young black people in the criminal justice system five years after the specialist unit in the Home Office was set up to address this issue. I am trying to get an accurate picture of where we are. The Committee will acknowledge the changes in the composition of the police force, staffing and so on. How much positive progress have we made?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: That is why I say that one of the issues of real frustration is that we have identified a whole series of things which needed to be changed, which we are changing. Notwithstanding the fact that we have changed the systems, we are getting better datasets, better analyses, the changes that we would like to see are not happening as quickly as we would like. We now have the beginning of that change. I gave you an example of the work that the stop and search action team is doing and the implementation of that, I think we should acknowledge, over the last 12 months, is already starting to show real differences and real changes. It is our approach towards neighbourhood policing, the involvement of communities, the Safer Schools Partnership which involves the community and the aftercare, the common quality of service standards, the police performance assessment framework, all of those are contributing to changing the template.

  Q598  Chairman: You are, quite rightly, keen to make it clear that people do not offend because of the colour of their skin, which the Committee would entirely accept. However, the Committee has had a lot of evidence as to what is happening within certain sections of the black community: black school exclusions, parenting, all those sorts of issues, the things which take a particular form in those communities. You seem to be reluctant to get into that area of debate. I wonder whether this is not leading the Home Office not to look at some important issues. We know, for example, that between 1997 and 2003 the number of black male prisoners of British nationality increased by 21.5% and there was a 5% rise in the number of white male prisoners with British nationality. We have been told by your officials that the Home Office has not conducted any detailed research, which looks specifically at the causes behind that growth in the minority and ethic population. Do you worry that in your understandable desire not to say there is a particular problem with the black community, we are failing to examine what is gong on to see if there are particular causes, particular trends and particular factors that need to be tackled?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I do not think so, for this reason. If we look at what we need to do to change patterns of criminality, we have to better engage communities. One of the things that we have failed to do in the past is properly to include communities in some of the problem solving. If you look at the things that have been successful, the operations which have been successful to curtail criminality in all communities, if you look particularly in relation to black and minority ethnic communities, where we have really engaged local communities, we have made dramatic changes. That involves understanding the culture, understanding the intelligence in terms of how crime operates in that area, and engaging people in a way that makes sense. Many of the people who have spoken to you will have talked about the fact that many communities have withdrawn from this. If you look at what happens in many Caribbean communities, historically there was an unwillingness to engage or combat authority. That is changing. Lots of the quite exciting things that are happening are happening as a result of community engagement with the services. So the local criminal justice boards as part of their confidence agenda have a specific target to better engage all our communities, which includes BME communities.

  Q599  Chairman: If I may, that does not necessarily say that it would not be worthwhile asking the question as a Home Office: why is the proportion of minority ethnic prisoners increasing at a much more rapid rate than those of male prisoners? Many of the witnesses we have had to this inquiry have welcomed the inquiry because they regard it as an opportunity to air issues that are going on in their community that they feel have been neglected for too long. Your position seems to be one of defending a position of saying, "We do not really want to assert these issues for fear of alienating the communities and not getting them on our side"?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: If I am giving that impression, that is the antithesis of what we are actually doing because what we have looked at, and we have looked at very boldly, is to say, "This disproportionality is unacceptable". We cannot understand why this is happening. There is no justification for it when you strip away these issues. The issue of why the black community is so concerned is absolutely right. If you look at the victims, why are there more black victims than white? That is not an acceptable position for us. Why are the numbers in our prisons of black and minority ethnic people going up? Why do we have sentencing which seems to impinge more trenchantly on black young people than others? Why is there this difference on the ground? These are very hard-edged questions that we are asking again and again and again at every stage because we do not accept that the disproportionality we currently see is explicable and therefore acceptable. If it was disproportionality based on a sound series of reasons, then we would be much more comfortable but we are not comfortable. If this Committee has gained the impression that that is not at the forefront of the work we are doing, then I very much regret that and would apologise if I, in anything I have said, have added to it because that is the antithesis of what we are trying to do. We are absolutely determined that we will change this because it is not acceptable.

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