Criminal Justice Reform
It is almost 2 years since the publication of the Lammy Review, which looked into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority individuals in our criminal justice system. In March, I gave oral evidence to the Justice Committee, chaired by Robert Neill MP. This concerned progress in the implementation of the Lammy Review’s recommendations. I gave my thoughts on what the general picture looks like and whether the situation had got better or worse. I made it clear that I was pleased with some aspects of the government’s response, namely their decision to set up a cross-cutting Race and Ethnicity Board. I was also pleased with the HMPPS’ commitment to a target of 14% of all prison staff being recruited from a BAME background by December 2020. However, I voiced my concerns primarily with the judicial sector, where progress on ethnic diversity has been slow. This is particularly true the further up the magistrate hierarchy you go, where BAME representation becomes less frequent.
I also spoke with Justice Secretary David Gauke on several issues. Namely, we agreed that we need to reform our criminal records system. We must also achieve greater engagement between the judiciary and the communities over which they preside. This is particularly important in the context of Youth Justice. On criminal records, I also hosted the Childhood Criminal Records Roundtable. We concluded that Parliament must change the system to make it fair for children. The Supreme Court has confirmed that the current system is unlawful, as it breaches the human rights of children who receive cautions. There is now an opportunity to look at many of the other criticisms that have made of the system as a whole and introduce wide-ranging improvements to the system. The following is an excerpt from my contributions to the Westminster Hall Debate on the Disclosure of Youth Criminal Records in March:
My concern with criminal records arose from the review that I did for the Government on the disproportionality of black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals within the criminal justice system. When I began that work, I did not really understand the effect that our criminal records regime was having on disproportionality.
It is important to fully understand that while this is an issue for all young people, whatever their backgrounds in the criminal justice system, we also know—following work done by the Department for Work and Pensions over the past two decades and a range of other research—that we are unfortunately still living in a society where people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds have a penalty in the public sphere, in relation to employment. That penalty, unfortunately, is that there are still aspects of discrimination when ethnic minorities apply for employment, particularly for those who have a criminal record…
I urge the Government to reflect hard on what we see of the job market, the double penalty that exists for minorities, and why recidivism rates are so high—because people are effectively trapped in unemployment. I want to make the case clearly that we have to give our young people from urban communities’ hope. The challenge of getting employment when someone reaches the age of maturity is a fundamental part of that. I urge the Minister to think hard about this area.