YJB urges action on ‘court bias' against black and Asian children

By Neil Puffett

| 10 August 2016

New guidelines for how children and young people who have been convicted of a crime are sentenced should aim to tackle bias within the court system against black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) children, the Youth Justice Board (YJB) has said.

The Youth Justice Board said overrepresentation of black, Asian and ethnic minority children in the youth justice system increases at the point of sentencing. Picture: Becky Nixon

Responding to a consultation on new guidelines for sentencing sexual offences and robbery, the YJB highlighted the overrepresentation of BAME children and young people throughout the youth justice system, adding that "this overrepresentation increases at the point of sentencing".

The organisation said this is down to "unconscious bias" against BAME children, and calls for action to address it.

"BAME children and young people are much more likely to be sentenced to custody than their white peers, for example, a greater proportion of young people from black backgrounds received custodial sentences (11 per cent) and a smaller proportion received community sentences (70 per cent) compared with white young people (8 per cent and 74 per cent respectively)," the YJB response to the consultation states.

"There are some key assessment stages in the courts and sentencing process where unconscious bias may be a relevant factor and the YJB would encourage consideration of how these guidelines could help tackle this."

The overrepresentation of BAME children and young people is highlighted by youth custody statistics which show that disproportionality within the system is on the rise.

Of the 877 under-18s in custody as of February this year, 370 were black, Asian or from an ethnic minority background - representing 42.2 per cent of the total, compared with 56.3 per cent who were white, with 1.5 per cent classified as "not known".

This is a substantial rise compared with the recent peak in youth custody figures, in June 2008, the when the proportion of young people who were black, Asian or from an ethnic minority background stood at 25.3 per cent, compared with 67.1 per cent who were white, with the ethnicity of 7.6 per cent not known.

The YJB also calls on the Sentencing Council to consider whether the guidelines can "helpfully comment" on the principles of video links in sentencing of children and young people.

"We believe children and young people should never be sentenced over video link," the response states.

"The YJB is engaging with HM Courts and Tribunals Service as they progress their extensive courts reform programme. Our aim is to ensure a distinct child-centred approach remains, and is enhanced, for children and young people going through court proceedings.

"We recognise the need to find efficiencies within the courts estate and are open to new ways of working, including greater use of technology.

"However, we are clear that a ‘digital by default, approach is not acceptable for children and young people as many already struggle to understand court processes and have special educational needs, disabilities, learning difficulties, and/or speech, language and communication needs."

To read a CYP Now special report on preventing youth offending, click here.

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