Black boys subject to harsher sentences, new Youth Justice Board research finds

Fiona Simpson
Monday, January 25, 2021

Black boys and young men are frequently subjected to harsher sentences and less likely than white children to receive out of court disposals, new research from the Youth Justice Board (YJB) finds.

YJB chair Keith Fraser has called for action to address the "system-wide issue". Picture: YJB
YJB chair Keith Fraser has called for action to address the "system-wide issue". Picture: YJB

The new Ethnic Disproportionality in Remand and Sentencing in the Youth Justice System paper, published last week, provides analysis of two years' worth of assessment and case management data “to better understand the extent of ethnic disproportionality in remand and sentencing outcomes”, the YJB said.

The report, which builds on the Lammy Review, published in 2017, finds that “there are notable differences between children of different ethnicities in risk, wellbeing and offending profiles with black children and children of mixed ethnicity having the largest differences compared to white children”.

“Black children were most likely to receive a custodial sentence and to serve longer sentences than all other ethnic groups,” the report states, adding that they are also less likely than children of all other ethnicities to receive out of court disposals.

However, Asian and children of mixed ethnicity are less likely that white children to receive out-of-court disposals, the report adds.

“Black children were more likely to be assessed as at greater risk of serious harm, and with higher safety and wellbeing concerns.

“Practitioners had more serious concerns with regards to risk of physical harm and were more likely to consider death a more likely adverse outcome,” the report adds.

It also found that black children are more likely than children from other ethnicities to be remanded in custody, therefore, increasing their chances of being handed a custodial sentence.

Researchers found that black children are between two and eight percentage points more likely than white children to receive a custodial sentence.

The report states that when other demographics, including gender and location, and offence-related factors combined with information from practitioner-assessments is halved.

However, it adds “we could not identify the factors, other than ethnicity, that can explain the remaining level of disproportionality”.

It states that other factors cannot explain ethnic disportionality leading to:

  • More restrictive remand outcomes for black and mixed ethnicity children  

  • Fewer out-of-court disposals for black, Asian and mixed ethnicity children  

  • Harsher court sentences for black children.

Meanwhile, girls are approximately nine percentage points more likely to receive an out-of-court-disposal than boys while boys are seven percentage points more likely to receive a custodial sentence than girls.

Keith Fraser, chair of the YJB, said: “While the scope of this report is limited by the data available, it gives us a more nuanced picture of the extent of disproportionality. 

For example, we now know that once demographic and offence-related factors were taken into account, disproportionality in some court sentence outcomes persisted for black children but not for other minority ethnic groups. 

“The research also identifies other areas where disproportional outcomes cannot be explained by offence-related and demographic factors. These areas require further exploration as does the influence of a remand outcome on a sentencing outcome, and the role of assessments of risk and vulnerability.”

“This is a system-wide issue and I am asking for all of the stakeholders involved to make a concerted and co-ordinated effort to address it,” he added.

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