PLA case study #4 – Mark Blake – Project Development Officer, BTEG

The PLA was formed in 2012 by Prisoners’ Education Trust ‘to provide expertise and vision to inform future priorities, policies and practices relating to prison education, learning and skills’. It now brings together 23 expert organisations who work to champion learning for people in prison. Each month, we shine a spotlight on one of them. 

What does BTEG do?

BTEG (Black Training and Enterprise Group) is a small charity focused on improving outcomes for the UK’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. Our work is primarily focused on influencing policy makers and government bodies to improve the delivery of their services to the UK’s BAME communities. We also support community organisations working with BAME groups and provide training and consultancy services in the area of race equality. Our main focus is improving outcomes for young people with employment, education and the justice system being key areas we work within. We also deliver a role model programme -'Routes 2 Success'- targeting young black men with more than 28 black male role models. They  volunteer their time to speak to groups of young black men and boys in schools, prisons and community organisations trying to raise their aspirations.

Why is this important?

On a range of social indicators, specific BAME groups are over-represented amongst the most deprived and disadvantaged groups in our society. The inequalities persist despite legislation and all of the positive changes that we have seen in British society over the past half century. So for example:
• 44% of people held in youth custody facilities are of a BAME background
• Unemployment amongst Pakistani women in London is 28.6% compared to 15.7% for white women
• Unemployment amongst black undergraduates, six months after gaining their degree, is 9.7% compared to 4.6% for their white peers

What is your role at BTEG and what were you doing before?

I lead on BTEG’s work around the criminal justice system. The primary piece of work here is the Young Review. BTEG provides the secretariat for the Young Review Independent Advisory Group which is chaired by Baroness Lola Young and is working with the Ministry of Justice to implement the recommendations from the report.

What are you busy with at the moment?

This week I have a number of reports I need to complete but the thing I am most looking forward to is a consultation event with young refugees/asylum seekers in Islington on issues such as policing and the justice system that affect them.

Can you give an example of someone who has benefited from your work?

BTEG’s 'Routes 2 Success' project recently worked with a group of black prisoners at HMP Wayland on a creative writing programme. This resulted in the publication of an anthology of the participants' short stories. 

What is the biggest challenge you face in doing your work?

Too often we don’t see institutions placing the issues that we throw light on at the centre of their priorities. We are working closely with David Lammy MP and his review into the over representation of BAME people in the criminal justice system. 

How do you feel about the future of the education offered to prisoners?

My optimistic side believes we may be moving along a path where we can get a consensus in our society that rehabilitating prisoners is something that must be done and in order to achieve that we need to have a commitment to incarcerating fewer people. I just believe we have a much better chance of creating a justice system that can support education, rehabilitation and desistance if we are locking up fewer people.

Could you suggest a book, film, programme, podcast or article that you have found inspiring or resonates with your work?

The black lives matters campaign in the USA has for me been inspirational in highlighting the injustices endured by poor African American communities by the US justice system. A Radio 4 Analysis programme recently sought to answer the question of why the US police are killing so many young black men? I think everybody working in the UK justice system should listen to this podcast.