Is there racial bias within the Criminal justice system in England and Wales?

Labour MP, David Lammy has recently published a highly critical report stating prosecutions against certain black and minority-ethnic suspects should be deferred or dropped in order to help tackle the bias against them. According to his report, young people are nine times more likely to be imprisoned than their white peers. Alarming statistics show that the proportion of black asian and minority ethnic (BAME) youth prisoners rose from 25% in 2006, to 41% last year.

In one area of offending, namely drugs, it was revealed that BAME people were 240% more likely to be sent to prison than white offenders. Lammy has now suggested that before entering a plea, offenders should be given the opportunity to complete a rehabilitation programme, such as a drug or alcohol treatment. Upon successful completion of that programme, any charges against the offender should be dropped, whilst those who failed would then go on to face criminal proceedings.

Lammy has also made other recommendations, including:

  • A national target for greater diversity with greater BAME representation in the judiciary by 2025. At present, whilst 14% of the general population are from BAME backgrounds, the proportion within the police and prison service is 6%, 7% in the judiciary, 11% amongst magistrates and 19% in the Crown Prosecution Service.
  • Sealing criminal records so that ex-offenders who can prove that they have reformed do not have to disclose past convictions to prospective employers.
  • All sentencing remarks in the Crown Court to be published in audio and/or written form to improve transparency.

A recent study has proven that violent offenders who have gone through the West Midlands programme, Operation Turning Point, are 35% less likely to reoffend than those who went through the normal criminal justice procedure. Lammy has therefore recommended that this scheme should be rolled out across England and Wales for adult and young offenders.

According to Lammy, many BAME defendants “simply do not believe that the justice system will deliver less punitive treatment if they plead guilty”. Greater diversity within the justice system is clearly required in order to ensure that certain ethnic groups are not targeted and discriminated against, however when and if these recommendations will be implemented, remains to be seen.

You can access a full copy of the review here.