Monday, 11 October 2010


Prison Reform Trust Director:
People will be & should be shocked by this data

New study finds seven times more black people per population are in prison
– in the US number is just four times as many

Mon 11 Oct 2010

The proportion of black people in prison in England and Wales is
higher than in the United States, a landmark report released today by
the Equality and Human Rights Commission reveals.

The commission's first triennial report into the subject, How Fair is
Britain, shows that the proportion of people of African-Caribbean and
African descent incarcerated here is almost seven times greater to
their share of the population. In the United States, the proportion
of black prisoners to population is about four times greater.

The report, which aims to set out how to measure "fairness" in
Britain, says that ethnic minorities are "substantially
over-represented in the custodial system". It suggests many of those
jailed have "mental health issues, learning disabilities, have been
in care or experienced abuse".

Experts and politicians said over-representation of black men was a
result of decades of racial prejudice in the criminal justice system
and an overly punitive approach to penal affairs.

"People will be and should be shocked by this data," said Juliet
Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust. "We have a tendency to say
we are better than the US, but we have not got prison right."

Lyon said that although there had been "numerous efforts to address
racism in the prison system … we have yet to get a better
relationship between justice authorities and black communities.
Instead we have ended up with mistrust breeding mistrust."

Evidence of this damaged relationship can be found in the
commission's report. On the streets, black people were subjected to
what the report describes as an "excess" of 145,000 stop and searches
in 2008. It notes that black people constitute less than 3% of the
population, yet made up 15% of people stopped by police.

The commission found that five times more black people than white
people per head of population in England and Wales are imprisoned.
The ethnic minority prison population has doubled in a decade – from
11,332 in 1998 to 22,421 in 2008. Over a similar period, the overall
number of prisoners rose by less than two thirds. The commission says
that the total number of people behind bars accelerated in the last
decade despite "a similar number of crimes being reported to the
police as in the early 1990s … the volume of indictable offences has
fallen over this time".

A quarter of the people in prison are from an ethnic minority.
Muslims now make up 12% of the prison population in England and

Some on the left of the Labour party blame its policies while in
power. Diane Abbott, who raised the alarm over the growing numbers of
jailed black men as a backbencher, said she "very much regretted that
the last Labour government swallowed [former home secretary] Michael
Howard's line that 'prison works'."

"There was never a serious examination of the consequences of locking
up a generation of young black men. The result is there are some
prisons in the south east which are now virtually all black. Many are
converting to Islam."

The problems may start at school. The commission points out that
black children are three times as likely to be permanently excluded
from education.

"We are reaping the effects of criminalising a community in the
1970s," says Ben Bowling, professor of criminal justice at Kings
College London and a former adviser to the home affairs select

"The question is how you break the cycle when young men experience
custody. Three quarters simply re-offend. We have to intervene with
families more effectively to stop kids going to prison. That means
looking at school exclusions. You need to deal with issues like
mental health and substance abuse. It is not enough to throw our
hands in the air."

The policies implemented in the last decade mean incarceration levels
in Britain are now among the highest in western Europe. England and
Wales have an imprisonment rate of 155 per 100,000 and Scotland of
149 per 100,000 of the population. This contrasts with rates of less
than 100 per 100,000 for most of Britain's neighbours.

The commission also warns of the rising numbers of women in jails. It
says that the "number of women prisoners has nearly doubled since
1995 in England and Wales, and since 2000 in Scotland – currently
around 5% of prisoners are women".

The Ministry of Justice said that the government would not comment
on individual portions of the report.

No comments: