The Young Review

5 Jan 2015

Baroness Young’s report explores how to improve outcomes for young black and Muslim men in the criminal justice system

Rod Clark, Chief Executive, Prisoners' Education Trust, writes:

"On 10 December in the august surroundings of the River Room in the House of Lords Baroness Lola Young, one of PET’s learning champions, launched her report into young black and Muslim men in the criminal justice system: The Young Review. It shines a spotlight on an aspect of criminal justice that is extremely important and deeply troubling. The figures show how the justice system bears down on black and minority ethnic (BAME) and Muslim groups in a disproportionate way. For example, 14% of the population are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and yet they make up 26% of the prison population. In prison, Black or mixed origin service users are subject to higher rates of adjudication, spend more days than average in segregation and are more frequently subject to the use of force.

Given the clear evidence of dis-proportionality in other aspects of criminal justice system, what can we say about how prison education operates for BAME groups? PET’s Brain Cells 3 report looked at the issue. The evidence is not strong, but there is enough to suggest cause for concern. It appears that BAME prisoners are more likely to have prior qualifications than white ones; MoJ research following a cohort of prisoners (the 2012 Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction study) found that 64% of BAME prisoners had qualifications compared to 51% of the white population. But the Brain Cells 3 responses suggested that BAME respondents were less likely to achieve qualifications while in prison. Mark Blake is the Project Development Officer at the Black Training and Enterprise Group which is a member of the Prisoner Learning Alliance and which played a major role in supporting the Young Review. As he commented on the original Brain Cells results, “Brain Cells 3 suggests a real problem getting BAME offenders to get involved in prison education… We need the National Offender Management Service to explore further why BAME offenders are rejecting the education offer in prisons to better inform how we can improve rehabilitation outcomes for BAME offenders.”

However, as we made clear in Brain Cells, our sample of BAME prisoners was small (17% of respondents) and not necessarily representative of the wider prison population; and BAME is far from homogenous being made up of many different ethnic groups with different characteristics. In 2015 we would like to see more research to be done to understand better their diverse needs.

At the launch of Baroness Young’s report, it was strongly welcomed by both the Justice Minister Simon Hughes and by Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, Michael Spurr. The Government accepted the key recommendation to appoint a high level Parliamentary Committee to maintain a focus on issue of BAME and Muslim people in the criminal justice system. Prison Education needs to be included in that agenda."