On 2 December 2021, the Youth Justice Board of England and Wales (YJB) published an updated report on how racial disparity affects children in their early years and within the youth justice system. The report is an updated version of a similar report published last year and includes data on school absence, higher education, physical activity, COVID-10 related data and specific data in respect of Wales.
The report centres on and presents recent data collected in respect of the following key areas; Formative Years, Education, Health, Pre-Court, Offences, Court, Custody, Reoffending.
The report also outlines steps being taken by the YJB to tackle disproportionality and a call for help from relevant government departments, agencies and statutory functions to disrupt the status quo.
The report highlights several systemic and institutional prejudices that occur within the youth justice system from an early age that results in unequal treatment of children based on racial and ethnic background. It examines the following areas:
- Formative Years (Slides 10-29): Highlighted issues here include the fact that Black children are more likely to be in care but less likely to be adopted and the gradual decline over the last 5 years of children in need who are white compared to slight increases in the proportion of Mixed ethnicity or Black children in need.
- Education (Slides 30-46): Data reviewed here includes the fact that Mixed White/Black Caribbean and Black Caribbean pupils were twice as likely to be permanently excluded as White British pupil and Traveller and Gypsy/Roma pupils had the highest overall absence rates and were also most likely to be permanently excluded. Over the last year, the YJB has held an employability event and also continued work with the Department for Work and Pensions to pilot mentoring programmes for 16 and 17 –year-olds in London. Help has been obtained from two private organisations to develop the pilot programmes.
- Health (Slides 47-58): This section of the report considers concerning data highlighting racial disparities within health and health care including the comparatively higher death rates for COVID-19 related deaths amongst Black males or all ages than for white males of the same age. The YJB has continued working with Alliance of Sport on a three-year project to engage with over 11,000 children from ethnic minorities to prevent and divert children using physical activity and sport.
- Pre-Court (Slides 59-66): Data considered in this section demonstrates that Black children are more likely to be stopped and searched and arrested than white children. Whilst the proportion of White first time entrants to the youth justice system has fallen over the last 10 years, the number of Black first time entrants has risen. The YJB is working with police and other agencies to tackle this issue.
- Offences (Slides 67-74): This section references data that demonstrates the disproportionality in homicide cases with Black people being five times more likely than White people to become victims of homicide. The data also shows that children from Ethnic minorities accounted for 40% of serious offences by ethnic group but account for 51% of children in custody for the year ending March 2020.
- Court (Slides 75-80): Data considered here shows that over the last year, the number of immediate custodial sentences for children fell by 40%. However, a smaller decrease existed for Black children compared to other ethnic groups.
The YJB has held a roundtable event jointly with the Magistrates Association to consider over-representation and agreed a protocol/checklist for magistrates which takes into account disparity. It has also continued working with Transform Justice, MOPAC and other stakeholders in London to look at issues around remand from police custody and court. The YJB will work with the NPCC on issues raised relating to out-of-court disposals, work with the Workforce Development Council, Association for YOT Managers and YOTs to consider and ensure ethnic disproportionality considerations are incorporated into the quality assurance process. The YJB is also undertaking further research to understand the judiciary’s use and experience of the advice they receive from YOTs when making remand/sentencing decisions for children.
- Custody (Slides 81-97):The proportion of children in custody by ethnicity for the year ending March 2021 is outlined as: White (48%), Black (28%), Mixed (14%), Asian and Other (10%). The number of children remanded to youth custody has decreased for each ethnic group except for Black children. The YJB’s remand and sentencing research highlighted that Asian and Black children are likely to have longer sentences compared to White Children.
The Youth Custody Service (YCS) has been working hard to address issues arising out of custody and racial disproportionality with a variety of different activities including increased development of equalities data tools, enhanced research into diversity and developing and publishing practice briefings to support various ethnicities and children with special support requirements.
- Reoffending (Slides 98-100): This section demonstrates that Black children have the highest reoffending rate. The YJB has updated its Reoffending Disproportionality Tool to highlight over-representation of ethnic groups according to youth reoffending data. It is also looking into conducting further research to understand ethnic disproportionality in youth offending rates.
This YJB report provides some insightful data in relation to continuing racial disparity within the youth justice system and highlights statistics which suggest that there is a long way to go in terms of achieving a more equal treatment of children of all ethnic backgrounds. Some improvements have occurred in the last year in respect of assisting children and aiming to avoid entry into the youth justice system by overrepresented ethnicities. This is no doubt due to the work of organisations such as the YJB and other the key stakeholders in the youth justice system who appear to be engaged in trying to not only collect and disseminate relevant data but also participate in programmes designed to ensure racial disparity is properly understood and, where possible, rectified. Resolving the evidently inherent problem of racial disparity at all stages of the youth justice system, from pre-court to sentencing/re-offending is a collective effort. This report sets the stage for acknowledging and understanding the relevant data. It also outlines programmes that design and implement strategies across key areas to nullify racial disparity and provides some positive suggestions as to the vital work that needs to be done.
James Rea-Palmer, Associate, Paul Hastings LLP