Over recent months, following the killing of George Floyd in the US, a spotlight has rightly been shone on racism and discrimination across the world. This inequality exists structurally and globally and the over-representation of, and poorer outcomes experienced by, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the criminal justice system in England and Wales forms a part of that injustice.
For too long, and despite numerous reviews – such as the Young Review and the Lammy Review – and despite the tireless work of dedicated organisations led by, and for, people of colour and minoritised communities, these injustices have sustained.
Clinks thinks all sectors working in criminal justice must work to tackle racism and discrimination –including the government, statutory services and the voluntary sector. This means that we all have our part to play in recognising our own role in sustaining this inequality, our own potential to challenge it and, ultimately, play a part in reversing it.
Our work so far
Tackling race inequality in the criminal justice system has, for many years, formed a part of Clinks’ influencing work to create systemic change. In doing this we have always sought to work in partnership with, and as an ally to, BAME led organisations. This has included:
- Working in partnership with BTEG to lead the Young Review
- Ensuring that a focus on race inequality is embedded across all areas of our policy activity so that we consistently raise the unequal outcomes experienced by BAME people in the criminal justice system wherever we can
- Engaging with BAME led organisations to understand and represent their knowledge and expertise and amplify their voice.
When developing our organisation’s strategy – which commits to supporting BAME led organisations and influencing the systemic change needed – we undertook focussed engagement with BAME specialist organisations and thought leaders. Through these discussions, we recognised the importance of shining a spotlight on the needs of BAME individuals in contact with the criminal justice system and identified five values for effective services to support them:
- Acknowledge the reality of racism for them
- Recognise their agency to create change
- Respond to their needs rather than the perceived risk they present
- Incentivise change through payment/reward
- Deliver services outside of the punitive criminal justice environment.
Recent work in this area has included:
- Giving oral evidence to the Justice Select Committee’s inquiry into the youth custody population, focussing specifically on the over-representation of, and poorer outcomes faced by, BAME children
- Coordinating a letter to Jo Farrar, CEO of HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), from the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group in support of a paper and recommendations made by BAME led organisations to address their challenges during the pandemic.
- Co-signing a letter – along with other members of the HMPPS External Advice and Scrutiny Panel for the implementation of the Lammy Review recommendations – raising concern about the roll-out of PAVA spray in prisons during the pandemic and the potential for its disproportionate use against BAME prisoners.
Clinks needs to do more – as a service provider, a voice, an ally and an employer.
We need to extend our strategic focus on race inequality right across our organisation so that we can provide support to BAME led organisations. From our State of the sector research, we know these specialist organisations face the most acute financial challenges within our sector, and that the individuals they support have the most urgent and complex needs.
We need to provide challenge to the wider criminal justice voluntary sector which is made up of staff and volunteers who, on the whole, do not share the same race and ethnicity or lived experiences as the people it supports. We need to ensure these organisations understand the impact of racism and inequality on their beneficiaries and embed that understanding in the way they work. We need to also ensure that those organisations work in true partnership with BAME led organisations – recognising the skill and expertise of specialist organisations but not relinquishing their own responsibility to tackle race inequality.
In undertaking this work we acknowledge that the term ‘black, Asian and minority ethnic’, and its acronym BAME, is problematic. It homogenises the experiences of people from a wide range of backgrounds, ignoring the intersection of other identities with race and ethnicity and potentially othering those it describes. In seeking an alternative, we recognise that structural racism does not only affect people of colour. In the criminal justice system, it also results in grave inequality for people from Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities. Therefore we will, wherever possible, seek to be specific when describing inequality in the criminal justice system, while at the same time use the term BAME – albeit reluctantly – to describe inequality and discrimination across groups of individuals when necessary. We will also work with, and listen to, those organisations that specialise in working with people described by the term BAME to consider what alternative language might be used.
Becoming an anti-racist organisation
Our aspiration is to make Clinks a truly anti-racist organisation in all we say and do, and how we operate internally and externally. Two weeks ago, our Board, with the full support of the senior management and wider staff team, committed to this. It was an easy decision to take in principle – you cannot create meaningful change in the criminal justice system without being anti-racist. But that does not mean it will be easy to implement in practice. Ibram X Kendi argues in his book How to Be an Antiracist that an idea, action or policy is either racist – that is, contributes to a structure that regards and treats different races as inherently unequal – or it is antiracist, because it is trying to challenge that structure. Doing so will be challenging and uncomfortable at times. If it’s not we likely won’t be getting it right. To get there we need to know what that destination looks like and plan the roadmap to get there. We need to understand and articulate how our anti-racist aspiration underpins our work.
How would we ask people to test and judge us on our anti-racist identity? We need to understand how we can hold ourselves up for internal scrutiny. That might include a measure of how we foreground the needs of BAME specialist organisations.
Can we achieve the policy and structural change needed to reduce the numbers of BAME individuals in the criminal justice system, and improve their outcomes? We need to fully understand what it means to be anti-racist and promote this understanding in the criminal justice system. Can we leverage a completely different way in which organisations are funded which benefits BAME-led and focussed organisations?
Without further delay, we will speak to BAME specialist organisations about the support they need and how we can provide it, and will be setting up a dedicated Clinks network to support them.
We will examine our organisational training, development and policies so that all staff understand what it means to be an anti-racist organisation and can deliver their work in that way. We’ll also review how we work so that we can achieve our strategic commitment to seek out the widest pool of talent and remove barriers to full participation for those who most appropriately represent the diversity in our sector.
We have agreed with HMPPS that in the second phase of our Covid-19 Response Grants programme we will weight the scoring in order to give priority to applications from organisations led by, and focused specifically on, providing services to people from BAME backgrounds.
I look forward to working with leaders across the sector, our board and staff team, over the next few months, to explore what this means – what we currently do well and where we need to improve – and to plan the practical actions we need to take. We might not have all the knowledge and expertise we need to do this within our organisation currently but we are committed to bring that in and resource it.
I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas as we take this work forward. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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