Beyond a numbers game
A new (5 June 2023) report from the Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA): “Beyond a numbers game” looks at diversity and inclusion of Black, Asian and minoritised staff in the criminal justice workforce. Over the last few years the CJA has been taking a whole system look at racial diversity and inclusion in the criminal justice workforce, an issue all criminal justice agencies have been grappling with and making efforts to improve in recent years.
However, progress has been slow, and this report seeks to understand the barriers, what can be done to drive forward change and why it is important to do so. The report is based on a literature review, as well as a series of events, roundtables and interviews with officials and representatives from professions across different criminal justice agencies. The report draws together key themes and challenges, shares emerging positive practice and makes recommendations for employers and policy makers.
Toxic workplace cultures
This report, along with Baroness Casey’s review into the Metropolitan Police and other recent research on the judiciary and legal professions, and thematic inspection reports on race in prisons and probation, all add to deeply concerning evidence of toxic and racially discriminatory workplace cultures across our criminal justice system. The CJA says there is an urgent need for all institutions and agencies to acknowledge and address the individual harm and systemic barriers these cultures create, hampering efforts to attract and retain staff from a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Many criminal justice agencies focus on recruitment processes and promotion of vacancies when attempting to increase diversity. However, less thought is given to retention (including developing safe and inclusive workplaces) and progression (ensuring racial diversity is present at all levels of an agency or organisation). The CJA argues that focusing purely on the numbers coming in is insufficient and ineffective. A stronger focus on retention and progression is crucial to make a long-term difference to workforce diversity.
The people consulted for the report felt the biggest barrier to criminal justice agencies’ being able to recruit more diversly was their inability to address their poor reputations with under-represented communities. They believed more targeted outreach and engagement from criminal justice agencies was key, as well as addressing systemic issues such as reducing discriminatory outcomes when their communities came into contact with that that agency. The report produced a checklist to improve recruitment which I have reproduced below.
Retention and inclusion
Experiences of racism and discrimination were common amongst the people consulted for the report; ranging from bullying and name calling, through to more insidious and subtle forms such as micro aggressions and stereotyping. This was having a huge impact on staff satisfaction and retention.
Examples were given of senior staff being complicit with, or turning a blind eye to, racist attitudes and behaviours, adding to the toxic work culture. This happened both in the workplace, but also on social media, with the ‘canteen culture’ now also being online. Many participants felt they would never fit in and be accepted without compromising their cultural identity, so they couldn’t bring their whole self to work. Negative experiences in complaints and grievance processes, along with a fear of retaliatory action, led to a lack of trust.
Racially minoritised staff said that they don’t trust CJS organisations to support career development and progression. They believed lack of progression compared to white colleagues was about structural barriers and not individual deficiencies. They also shared experiences of managers and colleagues putting them off applying for senior roles. As a result, participants felt talent was being ignored and wasted. Many expressed frustrations at seeing white colleagues progress through the hierarchy, while their progression quickly plateaued.
The report makes four key recommendations:
- Tackling racial disparities in our criminal justice system is vital to improve the reputation of criminal justice agencies. Urgent action needs to be taken to implement recommendations of reports relating to race and improve adherence with the Public Sector Equality Duty.
- A multi-agency approach is necessary to improve racial diversity across the whole criminal justice workforce. The government should set up a working group made up of government officials, representatives from different criminal justice agencies and specialist race equality organisations.
- The criminal justice voluntary sector should develop plans to improve recording and sharing of workforce data to enable progress to be measured.
- Sufficient resources should be allocated by government to support this work, including investing ‘by and for’ organisations, as reparation for past harms.