Review recommends youth justice overhaul to tackle racial bias

By Joe Lepper

| 08 September 2017

Young offenders should be dealt with in culturally sensitive community courts with a strong focus on parenting, according to a review into the treatment of minority groups in the justice system.

Tottenham Labour MP David Lammy has recommended changes to the way first-time offenders are dealt with by the youth justice system

In a bid to tackle the disproportionately high numbers of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) young people in the youth justice system, the review, launched in March 2016 by Labour MP David Lammy, wants to see England adopt an approach developed in New Zealand.

This would see the current system of youth offender panels replaced with local justice panels, which take direct inspiration from Rangatahi courts in Maori communities, where local people with a direct stake in a young offender's life, such as teachers, contribute to hearings.

These normally deal with first-time offenders who have admitted guilt, and have a strong focus on rehabilitation by bringing the young person's family and community together to ensure there are no repeat offences. 

Lammy, MP for Tottenham, wants these new panels to take place in community settings, have a focus on parenting and hold local services to account for children's behaviour.

"It is essential that there is a mechanism for bringing together all those with a stake in young people's lives and a link to their offending behaviour," says his review's final report.

"If an offence has been committed in school hours, for example, teachers or the head teacher should be brought in to discuss the role of the school in preventing future offending behaviour.

"If there are substance abuse or mental health concerns, the relevant services should also be present.

"Local justice panels would have the power to convene these services alongside parents and the local community, both to inform the tailored sentencing plan for each child and to review progress against it in the future."

Lammy's review details particular concerns about the disproportionate representation of BAME young people among first-time offenders.

It details that the BAME proportion of young people offending for the first time rose from 11 per cent in 2006 to 19 per cent last year. This increase was identical for the BAME proportion of young people who reoffend.

In addition, the review found that the proportion of BAME young offenders in custody rose from 25 to 41 per cent between 2006 and 2016, despite the overall number of young offenders falling.

Earlier this month, a government-commissioned study found that young black boys are 1.23 times more likely to be sentenced to custody by magistrates than their white peers.

Other recommendations made by Lammy include a requirement for magistrates to track a number of young offender cases each year, "to deepen their understanding of how the rehabilitation process works", states the report.

It adds: "The Ministry of Justice should also evaluate whether their continued attachment to these cases has any observable effect on reoffending rates."

The Children's Rights Alliance for England (Crae) said Lammy's report echoes its own concerns around growing disproportionality in the youth justice system.
"We were heartened when, in her first speech as Prime Minister, Theresa May highlighted that if you're black, you're treated more harshly by the criminal justice system and she pledged her government would deliver serious social reform, said a Crae spokeswoman.

"Today, with these important recommendations for change from the Lammy review, the government needs to act to make this a reality and stop the life chances of too many of our children and young people being wasted."

Jacob Tas, chief executive of crime reduction charity Nacro, said: "Although the number of children and young people in custody has reduced significantly over recent years, the review rightly points out that the proportion who are BAME has risen in the decade 2006 to 2016.

"Our Beyond Youth Custody programme found that BAME young people face particularly high levels of victimisation and exposure to crime, and that prejudice and discrimination harm BAME young people's self-identity. Therefore effective resettlement and rehabilitation must be culturally responsive and help develop positive identity and self-belief."

Justice Secretary David Lidington said the government will look "very carefully" at Lammy's findings and recommendations.

"This government is committed to shining a light on injustice as never before, because only by revealing issues can we begin to address them," he added.

blog comments powered by Disqus