More than half of young people in jail are of BME background

More than half of the inmates held in prisons for young people in England and Wales are from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background, the highest proportion on record, the prisons watchdog has said, prompting warnings that youth jails have hit “American” levels of disproportionality.

About 51% of boys in young offender institutions (YOIs) – prisons for boys aged 15 to 17 and young adult men aged 18 to 21 – identified as being from a BME background, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) found.

In addition, the inspectorate found 42% of in secure training centres (STCs) – prisons for children up to the age of 17 – were from a BME background.

The proportion of BME boys and men behind bars in YOIs in England and is nearly four times the 14% BME proportion of the wider UK population.

David Lammy MP, who published a review into the treatment of and outcomes for BME individuals in the criminal justice system in 2017, said he was shocked by the figures, which have rocketed since he released the report, when the BME proportion in YOIs and STCs was just over 40%.

He said: “This is very alarming. England and Wales are now hitting an American scale of disproportionality in our youth justice system. The government urgently needs to step up implementation of my review.

“There are real problems with the youth justice system. I’m very concerned by how youth justice courts are performing. They’re not very close to communities. Parents seem to be disengaged. Community members seem to be disengaged.”

Lammy said that as part of his research he observed positive practices in places such as New Zealand, where the community engaged in youth justice.

“That’s not the case in this country. It’s really remote. Magistrates courts are being cut so it’s even more remote,” he said.

The Labour MP for Tottenham repeated concerns about the lack of diversity within the judiciary.

“I raise some serious concerns about our courts, about the paucity of black and ethnic minority judges and magistrates right across the country. I thought the government response was poor in relation to the judiciary. I said that at the time, I still believe that.


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