Magistrates more likely to send black young people to custody, study finds

By Tristan Donovan

| 04 September 2017

Young black boys are 1.23 times more likely to be sentenced to custody by magistrates than their white peers, a Ministry of Justice study has found.

In 2015/16, magistrates were 1.23 times more likely to sentence black boys to custody than white boys. Picture: Peter Crane

The study, commissioned following the Lammy Review, sought to identify factors that have led to black and ethnic minority 10- to 17-year-olds being over-represented in youth custody compared with their population size.

The report found that in 2015/16 young black males were more likely to get a custodial sentence from magistrate courts than white offenders but found no such difference at crown court.

The report noted that the conclusions that can be drawn from this are limited since the analysis did not explore what role aggravating or mitigating factors played in sentencing decisions and so more research into the reasons behind the sentencing differences is needed.

The report also found that there are differences in the mix of crimes for which young people from different ethnicities are sent to youth custody for. In the year to March 2016, 68 per cent of young black people in custody were convicted of a principal offence of violence against the person or robbery. This compares with 53 per cent of young white offenders in custody.

The analysis reported that in 2015/16 nine out of every 10,000 young black people were in custody. This compares with one out of every 10,000 young white people, four mixed ethnicity young people, and two Asian or other young people.

Until 2015/16, young black people also spent the longest time in custody but now mixed ethnicity, Asian and other young people spend longer in custody on average. The analysis found no statistically significant link between the length of sentence young people from different ethnicities received and characteristics such as looked-after child status, free school meals, special educational needs, and absence or exclusion from school.

The analysis noted that while the number of young people of all ethnicities in custody has declined over the past decade, the decline is slower for black and ethnic minority young people and this is causing the proportion of young people in custody who are black or from an ethnic minority to increase.

Between 2007/08 and 2015/16, the number of young white people in custody fell 73 per cent compared with 53 per cent for those of mixed ethnicity, 49 per cent for black young people and 16 per cent for Asian and others.

The analysis follows a Ministry of Justice report released in November 2016 that found black, Asian and ethnic minority boys are more likely to be arrested, sent to crown court and get a custodial sentence than their white peers.

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