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Tackling Inequality in the Criminal Justice System

Many equality and minority groups are overrepresented in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) and a large proportion of the people in the CJS face some form of discrimination or disadvantage because of being from an equality and/or minority group.

'Tackling Inequality in the Criminal Justice System' summarises presentations given at a Clinks seminar by organisations working to tackle inequality in the CJS and highlights learning points for voluntary and statutory organisations.

It presents discussions which took place during the seminar, highlighting solutions to challenges for policy makers and commissioners to tackling inequality in the CJS at each stage of the commissioning cycle.

Examples from the frontline

This section of the report provides summaries of five presentations given at the event from organisations tackling inequality for different groups in the CJS including:

  • Muslim young men
  • Older people
  • Gay and bisexual men
  • People with learning disabilities
  • Women.

These examples were selected to include a wide range of groups facing different challenges, some of which are less well understood within the CJS. However, we recognise that it by no means covers all equality and minority groups. We provide a list of resources at the end of the report which signpost to further information both on the issues we do cover here and others we have been unable to include.

The presentations highlighted a series of learning points for voluntary and statutory organisations:

  1. Create partnerships between locally led community organisations and larger national organisations to create impact at the grassroots and policy levels.
  2. Influence public perception in order to tackle stigmatisation and negative stereotypes.
  3. Use creative activity and the arts to provide a space for people to explore complex issues and widen horizons.
  4. Use research and evidence to make the case for your service or activities - set up pilots in the first instance to demonstrate the value of your work.
  5. Demonstrate how your work can help statutory services fulfil their legal obligations under the Equality Act (2010) and highlight that the duty to make reasonable adjustments should be anticipatory and reactive.
  6. Make solutions easy for statutory services, especially prisons, to implement; fit in with their ways of working.
  7. Commitment and persistence is often necessary to communicate the importance and value of meeting the needs of equality and minority groups.
  8. Recognise the value and power of self advocacy – involve service users to ensure their voices are heard; they are the ‘experts by experience’.
  9. Use the information, knowledge and experience gained in delivering services to influence policy.

Commissioning for equality

Group discussions at the seminar identified challenges to ensuring that equality groups receive appropriate services, in line with their legal rights and needs. Ways in which organisations have overcome these challenges were also shared. This report presents the challenges and solutions to them at each stage of the commissioning process starting with assessing needs, followed by designing services and purchasing them (procurement), and finally reviewing and evaluating impact.

The following solutions for statutory services, commissioners and policy makers were identified:

  1. Criminal justice staff should be trained and provided with information to help them identify people who may have a protected characteristic or be from an equality or minority group.
  2. To improve identification and needs assessments, information disclosed by a service user about their membership of an equality and minority group to any professional working in the CJS from either the statutory, voluntary or faith sectors, at any point in their journey through the system, should, with the service users’ permission, be recorded and their needs then met.
  3. In order to appropriately identify needs it is vital that the views and experiences of service users are sought and listened to. Service user involvement should be formally incorporated into needs assessments and development of strategy.
  4. Commissioning streams and programmes should be designed specifically, or with flexibility so that they can be adapted, to meet the requirements identified at the needs assessment stage.
  5. Leadership and improved training is required throughout the CJS, at national policy level all the way down to operational establishments, in order to emphasise the importance of equality and diversity.
  6. Service users from equality and minority groups should be involved in the delivery of training so that their experiences and perspectives can be directly communicated to staff.
  7. Partnership working with voluntary and community organisations that work specifically with particular equality and minority groups, or delivering services through peer support, can help to ensure that those delivering services reflect the diversity of service users.
  8. More qualitative information that draws on service user and practitioner experiences is needed to give a full and complete understanding of the success of services and interventions in improving outcomes for equality and minority groups.


The seminar highlighted a wide variety of good practice and innovation taking place to ensure that the needs and legal rights of people from minority and equality groups within the CJS are addressed. This activity is taking place in both the voluntary and statutory sectors and in many cases is the result of excellent partnership working between the two.

However it also highlighted that there is striking over-representation of some groups with protected characteristics within the CJS and that many minority and equality groups experience significantly worse outcomes than other service users. While some progress is being made towards addressing these issues serious challenges remain. We hope that the learning points and solutions identified by participants at the seminar and presented in this report will support voluntary organisations, statutory services, commissioners and policy makers to overcome these challenges.