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‘Racial Bias’ Exposed in Criminal Justice System

‘Racial Bias’ Exposed in Criminal Justice System

racial bias in police and justice system

A government review into the criminal justice system by North London MP David Lammy has found that there is a greater bias towards black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) offenders, which adversely impacts sentencing.

The review found that a greater number of black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups are prosecuted more frequently and receive harsher sentences than those not of these ethnic backgrounds.

The report also found that ethnic minorities were more frequently prosecuted for crimes such as assault and domestic violence than other people who had been accused of these crimes. In his report, Mr Lammy said that “BAME individuals still face bias – including overt discrimination – in parts of the justice system.”

Black defendants are less likely to plead ‘not guilty’

Mr Lammy’s report found that despite the total number of young offenders in custody having fallen to record lows, the number of BAME young offenders in custody increased from 25% to 41% between 2006 and 2016. This disproportionality high number of young BAME offenders within the criminal justice system is a drain on government spending and costs the taxpayer approximately £309m a year, the report said.

In his review, Mr Lammy also highlighted that the proportion of young BAME people offending for the first time increased from 11% in 2006 to 19% in 2017.

In addition, the report found that if a defendant is black, they are less likely than if they are white to plead ‘not guilty,’ which would offer the defendant reduced sentencing. Mr Lammy claims that this reflects a “trust deficit” in the criminal justice system, saying that:

“Many BAME defendants simply do not believe that the justice system will deliver less punitive treatment if they plead guilty.”

Mr Lammy’s view is reflected by the statistics uncovered in the review. Between 2006 and 2014, the proportion of black defendants pleading ‘not guilty’ in Crown Courts in England and Wales was 41%, compared to 31% of white defendants.

Review offers many recommendations on tackling discrimination

Mr Lammy recommends a series of reforms to help address what he sees as widespread discrimination within the criminal justice system. In total, the report offered 30 recommendations on how to tackle issues of race within the justice system.

The report recommends that suspects’ names and ethnicities are hidden when charging decisions are made. In addition, a system of deferred prosecutions should be established, advocating for the more widespread use of rehabilitation programmes in which offenders can address their offending behaviour and work towards change. Judges should use their discretion to judge whether an offender is adequately rehabilitated and charges for “low-harm crimes” should be dropped.

Addressing reoffending through criminal record sealing

The report also suggests criminal records could be “sealed” by a judge if they are adequately satisfied that the offender has reformed. The proposal to seal criminal records would allow for rehabilitated offenders to have their criminal record hidden from employers, but would not actually remove the criminal record.

Sealing rehabilitated offenders’ criminal records would allow for them to have the opportunity to work within society, and would keep them away from reoffending, said Mr Lammy:

“A job is the foundation of a law-abiding life and the key to reform for any offender. Our criminal records regime must protect the public, but it is having the opposite effect and trapping offenders in their past,” he said.

“It is only through delivering fairness, rebuilding trust, and sharing responsibility that we will build the equal and just society so often spoken about,” he concluded.

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