Lammy brands racial injustice in youth prisons a “national scandal”

Elliot Chappell

David Lammy has described figures showing that more than half of all young people in custody are from a Black, Asian or ethnic minority background a “national scandal” and said the government must “finally act like Black lives matter”.

Responding to the release of annual government youth justice statistics today, Lammy highlighted that while the data shows people from a BAME background make up 51% of those in custody, they make up just 14% of the UK population.

The numbers published this afternoon revealed that an increasing proportion of people in custody are from a BAME background, up from 49% in 2019 and almost doubling in the ten years since the Conservatives came to power from 28% in 2010.

Commenting on the figures, the Shadow Justice Secretary declared: “It is a national scandal that more than half of young people locked up are from a Black, Asian or ethnic minority background.

“The Conservative government urgently needs to implement the recommendations in the Lammy review it has so far ignored, as well as going further to recognise the scale of racial injustice in youth prisons.”

The review carried out by the Labour justice spokesperson in 2017 examined racism in the justice system. The report provided ministers with 35 recommendations, most of which have not been implemented by the government.

The Shadow Justice Secretary added today: “Instead of denying the reality of structural racism, it is time for the government to finally act like Black lives matter.”

Lammy set out Labour’s plans for criminal justice reform at the online ‘Connected’ conference last year, voicing the party’s commitment to renationalising probation, addressing racial and gender inequality and improving diversity.

Labour also highlighted today that racial disproportionality is getting worse on a range of other measures as well, with Black children cautioned or sentenced having doubled since the year ending March 2010 from 6% to 12%.

Over a third (36%) of all remand episodes involved BAME children. This figure increases to 49% for remands to youth detention accommodation, with 29% of remands to youth detention accommodation given to Black children.

Government figures also showed that the proportion of all occasions in which Black children were sentenced for indictable offences has increased from 14% to 22% over the past five years.

Children from a mixed ethnic background accounted for 9% of those receiving a caution or sentence in the latest year, which is more than twice the 4% figure reported by the government in 2010.

The comments from Lammy this afternoon follow those of minister for women and equalities Liz Truss last month, who claimed the debate on equality was being led by “fashion” and accused politicians of making “evidence-free” criticisms.

Truss argued that data based on protected characteristics set out under the Equalities Act is not fit for purpose and said that debates on equality must be “rooted” in “real concerns people face”.

The nine protected characteristics defined in the legislation are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

The government minister claimed that the debate is too often “dominated by a small number of unrepresentative voices, and by those who believe people are defined by their protected characteristic and not by their individual character”.

Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary Marsha de Cordova described her comments as “gratuitous provocation from a government that consistently refuses to face up to its responsibilities and the widening inequality it has caused”.

More from LabourList