Some things have stayed consistent throughout the history of black people in the UK. One of these is the over-policing and disproportionate representation of black men in the carceral justice system.
In the wake of HMI Probation Thematic Inspection report released this week, we see these roots carrying through to the current experiences of black and mixed-race young men and boys in the youth justice system. In our own work in prisons, the community and our day centre, we address daily the consequences on those young people’s mental health and life chances.
So what are some of the numbers behind this consistent lived experience of black Londoners? Well, for a starter:
- Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, and six time more likely when driving. This is eighteen times more likely under Section 60, the power that allows the police not only to stop and search on reasonable suspicion but also permits suspicion-less searches. Most forces still can’t adequately explain why there is disproportionality in the way these powers are used.
- Black people are 5.7 times more likely to have force used on them than white people. Officers are also 9 times more likely to draw a weapon like a taser (a traumatising experience even if it is not discharged.)
- Black people are 8 times more likely to be cuffed than white people and over 3 times more likely to have a spit guard (a mesh hood with a plastic face guard) used on them.
- Black children and young people receive harsher custodial sentences than their white peers.
Not much seems to have changed since the important 2017 Lammy Review on the treatment and outcomes of black and minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system. Little surprise then that 85% of black and minority ethnic people do not believe they would be treated the same as a white person by the courts or police. We hear this from the young people we support too, not infrequently straight after they have been stopped and searched while they were simply on their way to our day centre or an appointment at a housing options service with one of our team.
Recently the government has decided to relaxed the rules on ‘Stop and Search’ as part of its Beating Crime plan. There is however very little evidence that the Section 60 is in any way an effective deterrent, thus leaving in place a still hugely discriminatory practice as well as reinforcing a cycle of over-policing of black communities.
As Wendy Williams, Senior Police Inspector said in February 2021 “The damage caused by these unexplained disproportionalities can be far-reaching and long-lasting. It may lead to more Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people being drawn into the criminal justice system, disrupting their education and family lives, and reducing their work opportunities. Furthermore, it feeds perceptions among the public and police about Black people and crime and may also influence how the police allocate and deploy resources. This in turn exacerbates the imbalances in the criminal justice system.” Clearly, the racism embedded in policing, whether intentionally or not, was built by people, policies and practices, and can therefore be dismantled.