More than half of the inmates held in prisons for young people in England and Wales are from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background, the highest proportion on record, the prisons watchdog has said, prompting warnings that youth jails have hit “American” levels of disproportionality.
About 51% of boys in young offender institutions (YOIs) – prisons for boys aged 15 to 17 and young adult men aged 18 to 21 – identified as being from a BME background, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) found.
In addition, the inspectorate found 42% of children in secure training centres (STCs) – prisons for children up to the age of 17 – were from a BME background.
The proportion of BME boys and men behind bars in YOIs in England and Wales is nearly four times the 14% BME proportion of the wider UK population.
David Lammy MP, who published a review into the treatment of and outcomes for BME individuals in the criminal justice system in 2017, said he was shocked by the figures, which have rocketed since he released the report, when the BME proportion in YOIs and STCs was just over 40%.
He said: “This is very alarming. England and Wales are now hitting an American scale of disproportionality in our youth justice system. The government urgently needs to step up implementation of my review. I raise some serious concerns about our courts, about the paucity of black and ethnic minority judges and magistrates right across the country. I thought the government response was poor in relation to the judiciary. I said that at the time, I still believe that. There are too many judges that have no connection to the areas these young people are growing up. They’ve never even done a day trip. I think that’s a problem.”
Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “For the first time, more than half of boys in prison identify as being from a black or minority ethnic background. Sixteen months after the Lammy review was published, it is disturbing that disproportionality is growing.”