The Lammy Review into the treatment of, and outcomes for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) individuals in the criminal justice system once again highlighted the significant race inequalities in our justice system. Clinks held two roundtable events at both Labour and Conservative Party Conferences, supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust, to discuss the Review’s findings and recommendations. Each week an attendee at one of the roundtables will write about their reflections on the review, in the context of their own position and sphere of influence, and what they plan to do in response to it. Keep an eye out for future blogs from David Lammy MP, Shaun Bailey AM, and PCC Paddy Tipping amongst others.
The second blog in the series comes from Kate Green MP. Kate is the Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston, former shadow Minister for women and equalities, and former member of the justice select committee. Kate looks at the experiences of Gypsies, Roma and Irish Travellers in the criminal justice system.
David Lammy’s review offered a rare and welcome focus on the experiences of Gypsies, Roma and Irish Travellers (GRT). Too often, this group – which suffers extreme disadvantage across a range of outcomes – has been overlooked.
Yet at the same time, the Lammy Review suggests that Gypsies, Roma and Travellers are over represented in the criminal justice system. It points to research suggesting that, despite representing just 0.1% of the wider population, Gypsies, Roma and Irish Travellers account for approximately 5% of male prisoners. In some prisons, the population appears to be as high as 12%. These high figures are despite the deficiencies in data collection: 8% of women at HMP New Hall identified themselves as Gypsy, Roma or Traveller, despite the prison reporting one known Traveller.
Adopting comparable datasets and improving data collection are essential to identifying and addressing the needs of this vulnerable group of offenders. I therefore welcome the progress that has been made in some police forces and by the Youth Justice Board to adopt 2011 census definitions which enable proper identification of Gypsies and Travellers. But more must be done to collect comprehensive and accurate data across the system as a whole.
Of course, there are obstacles to data collection. IT constraints are often mentioned, though the effort and re-engineering required is often less than suggested. And under-reporting by individuals is also a concern. The co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Gypsies, Roma and Travellers, Baroness Janet Whitaker, has acknowledged that ‘many young people from the Gypsy and Traveller communities are fearful of admitting their ethnicity because of the bullying and exclusion’ that they have previously experienced. But, as she also pointed out, ‘trust can be developed if the information is shown to be helpful’.
The issue of trust in the justice system is a two-sided coin. Lack of faith that the system will treat offenders fairly is exacerbated if GRT victims of crime feel that their experience of racist abuse is not taken seriously. In recent research, the Traveller Movement found that 77% of Gypsy Roma and Traveller people had experienced hate speech or hate crime. Yet information from a website set up by GATE Herts and Report Racism GRT to collected data on hate crime revealed that only 20% of crimes that were reported to the website were also reported to the police. Of those who didn’t report, 60% either thought the police wouldn’t do anything about their complaint, or felt that the incident was too common an occurrence. Work is needed to build the community’s confidence in reporting hate crime and hate speech, and to ensure transparent and vigorous action by the police, Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to act on such reports.
Racism against Gypsies Roma and Travellers is compounded by the view of 66% of people – including some of those making and assessing policies – who do not consider Gypsies and Travellers to be an ethnic group. Indeed, just last week, in a debate in the House of Commons, my colleague Laura Pidcock had to correct another MP, and former minister, to point out that not physically travelling does not mean someone isn’t a Traveller – it’s a matter of ethnicity, protected by the 2010 Equality Act. So alongside data collection and action to address discrimination in the criminal justice system, we urgently need to educate the wider public, including in our schools.
Gypsy and Traveller children often have poor school experiences, are more likely to drop out of secondary education, and less likely to achieve the GCSE threshold – and this often reflects that they find school an unwelcoming place. Bullying and racial harassment at school should not be tolerated against any group, yet casual racism is experienced not just from fellow pupils, but also from teachers, whose aspirations for GRT children are often lamentably low – as demonstrated, for example, by the student who was told they would ‘end up tarmacking drives’.
One way to raise awareness and address discrimination in schools would be the inclusion of GRT History Month in the national curriculum. This would foster the GRT community’s pride in its long and rich cultural history and contribution to our society, while spreading knowledge and understand among the wider community. GRT History Month might seem a far cry from tackling the disproportionate representation of Gypsies Roma and Travellers in the criminal justice system. But dignity, respect and recognition are the bedrock of justice and equality. Let’s put that building block in place.
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