A year ago Clinks had just returned from holding roundtable meetings at Conservative and Labour party conferences titled ‘After Lammy: where next for tackling race inequality in criminal justice?’ Following these events we published a series of guests blog responding to this question with contributions from Kate Green MP, Shaun Bailey AM and PCC Paddy Tipping.
The blogs, while offering different perspectives, were all aspirational and hopeful that an opportunity had been seized to finally begin to address the longstanding disparities we see in the numbers of and outcomes for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the criminal justice system (CJS).
So one year on, and following the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) publication of an update on the action they have taken, where are we? Did we seize the opportunity? And where has it got the sector - and more importantly, BAME people in the CJS?
The MoJ update
There is no doubt that the MoJ has responded to the Lammy Review and the wider government race disparity audit with significant activity and this is to be welcomed. The published update is 39 pages long, providing an overview of work in this area as well as a specific update on activity in response to each of Lammy’s 42 recommendations. You can read summaries and commentaries on the update from Equal (formerly the Young Review), Barrow Cadbury Trust and Russell Webster.
An issue as persistent and ingrained as race inequality in the CJS was never going to be solved quickly and we must take this into account when judging progress. However, inaction on this issue has been the norm for far too long and we must remain vigilant to ensure that concerted and strategic action targeted towards improved outcomes is being taken.
In this blog I reflect on progress in some of the key areas that Clinks has previously highlighted as being of concern and provide further information on what Clinks has been doing and plans to do to influence these issues further.
Voluntary sector engagement
The Ministry of Justice update makes some reference to the voluntary sector. In particular Clinks’ and Equal’s (formerly the Young Review) support in running workshops for Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) on commissioning BAME organisations and The Young Review Charter Mark, due to be launched in the new year.
There are also a number of other engagement mechanisms through which MoJ and Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) have involved the sector which are less clear in the update but worthy of mention.
HMPPS has established an External Advice and Scrutiny Panel to support its implementation of the Lammy Review, which Clinks and a number of other voluntary sector organisations sit on including the Zahid Mubarak Trust, POPs and the Traveller Movement. Over the last year this group has been involved in reviewing and discussing Discrimination Incident Report Forms, Incentives and Earned Privileges policy and use of force. It is a constructive forum which is able to examine the detail of operational policy with a view to making changes that can lead to improved outcomes.
Quarterly meetings have also been held between justice minister Edward Argar (previously Phillip Lee MP) and representatives of voluntary organisations working with BAME people in the CJS. Each of these meetings has focused on a different theme and the participants at each has therefore varied to enable the participation of a wider range of representatives according to specific knowledge and expertise.
In addition Clinks has supported the Youth Justice Policy Unit, which the update outlines as having been set up in response to The Lammy Review, to engage with a range of sector organisations to develop its work plan.
MoJ, HMPPS, and Youth Justice Board (YJB) officials also continue to meet with and provide updates to Equal’s Independent Advisory Group.
So far most of this engagement with the sector has taken the form of discussion, exploration and provision of advice and knowledge based on our expertise. We are yet to see the MoJ actively partner with or specifically resource any organisations as part of the implementation of the Lammy Review, despite Clinks having highlighted in our briefing on the review that the voluntary sector could play a key role in implementing 16 of the 30 recommendations.
The update highlights that MoJ will now use the 18+1 ethnic origin categorisation system, and has introduced the Relative Rate Index, as recommended by Lammy, to courts and is exploring how to introduce this further across the system. The 18+1 system is very welcome and will mean that in the future we will have much improved data on the experiences of and outcomes for BAME people that is able to respond to the diversity of identities and experience within the ‘BAME’ label. In particular it will mean data on Gypsy Roma Traveller (GRT) people is available, which up until now has not been systematically collected.
Responding to the diversity within ‘BAME’
In addition to new data collection processes the update also outlines a long overdue focus on GRT people in the CJS. This is very welcome; this group have been ignored for far too long and while we recognise that means it is too early to make judgement on outcomes, it is vital that any activity undertaken to address this now meaningfully engages with GTR voluntary sector organisations.
It is disappointing that the update does not include any similar focus on the experiences of Muslim people in the CJS. Muslim people in the CJS and organisations working with them have repeatedly outlined how they are viewed through the lens of extremism and counter terrorism despite only 1% of Muslim prisoners being convicted for terrorist related offences, and yet the update makes no reference to these issues as being of concern or requiring action to address them. Clinks encourages the department to engage with the work currently being supported by the Barrow Cadbury Trust and being undertaken by a range of Muslim organisations including Maslaha and Muslim Hands to understand the experiences of this group and how a culturally competent response can be developed.
Similarly the information provided in the update regarding BAME women is extremely limited, repeating much of what was said in the government’s initial response to the Lammy Review and pointing to the requirement that those applying for the £3.5m Community Investment Fund (promised in the Female Offender Strategy) show how they will support BAME women. However it is not just the responsibility of the voluntary sector working with women in the CJS to consider intersectionality and there is a need for MoJ to develop its own response in greater detail.
Explain or reform
The update highlights that Lammy’s recommended principle of explain or reform, whereby unequal outcomes should be able to be explained and if not reforming action should be taken, has been adopted by MoJ as an overarching principle for cultural change.
It is disappointing not to see specific structures being put in place to operationalise this principle. There is a need to provide systems to identify when something should be subject to the principle and policies stating who is responsible for explaining disparities and to whom. There also needs to be structures that provide clarity on who is able to decide when an explanation is sufficient and what form of reform is appropriate.
Targeted action to improve outcomes
Another of Lammy’s key recommendations was to explore models of deferred prosecution for BAME defendants because they are more likely to plead not guilty and therefore lose the potential benefits of early guilty pleas. Clinks has repeatedly made the point that while we think this model has potential, there is a need to consider how it will be targeted to achieve improved outcomes specifically for BAME people. The update outlines four pilot areas for deferred prosecution but explicitly states that ethnicity is not a criteria for participation. These models therefore risk creating the same disproportionate outcomes we see across the rest of the CJS.
Where are we now and where next?
Significant activity is undoubtedly being undertaken and the MoJ, and indeed government more widely, should be commended for its willingness to recognise and address the racial disparities in the CJS.
To ensure this activity is on track and sufficiently strategic and targeted at improving outcomes we in the voluntary sector must act as a critical and guiding friend to government. Clinks will continue to call for clearer outcomes and indicators of progress to be defined and published.
The volume of activity taking place within the MoJ on this agenda and the complexity of the various groups and structures that have been set up to steer it can make it difficult for the sector to engage. MoJ’s publication of this update is a helpful first step to sharing more widely the activity taking place but Clinks would like to see MoJ sharing information on this issue more often and more widely and is keen to support them in this.
We must also act as an ally to BAME led organisations. Clinks will continue not only to engage with MoJ on this agenda but also facilitate, wherever we can, direct engagement between them and BAME led organisations. We will also continue to keep the sector abreast of developments and encourage all parts of the sector, not just BAME led organisations, to recognise that the issue of race inequality in the CJS must not be ignored.
Latest on Twitter
It is imperative that government prioritises and resources the tackling of race inequality in the criminal justice system. It is crucial that voluntary orgs led by and focussed on racially minoritised people are listened to, taken seriously and consulted in these conversations. https://twitter.com/HMIProbation/status/1451073306791223296