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Little progress on racial disparity in prisons
Prison Reform Trust reveals outcomes for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic prisoners have failed to improve more than five years after the Lammy Review into racial disparity.

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Lack of transparency

Outcomes for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic prisoners have failed to improve more than five years after the publication of David Lammy’s seminal review of the criminal justice system, according to a new analysis published today (24 March 2023) by the Prison Reform Trust .

The Lammy review into the treatment of people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals by the criminal justice system, published in 2017, contained 11 specific recommendations concerning prisons — all accepted by the government; as well as three further overarching recommendations on recording, monitoring and acting to address disproportionate outcomes.

In the absence of any published update of progress since 2020, the Prison Reform Trust has gathered evidence of progress against these 14 recommendations to determine whether policies have changed to meet Lammy’s original recommendations and, crucially, whether this has led to a change in outcomes for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic prisoners.

Six of the recommendations are rated red — indicating no progress; eight are rated amber — indicating partial progress; and none are rated green — indicating that a recommendation has been met and is having the desired impact.

One of the red-rated recommendations concerns the use of force in prisons. Despite repeated assurances — including in response to a judicial review backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission — regular statistics on the use of force are still not published, and there is no available evidence of performance in the application of the use of force policy.

What data are available confirm that Black prisoners are more likely than other ethnic groups to have force used against them, and are far more likely to be subject to the use of batons and PAVA incapacitant spray.

The prison service acknowledges this disparity but there is no evidence that they have applied the central ‘explain or reform’ principle called for in Lammy’s review. There is no explanation and while policy measures including a ‘use of force good practice guide’ and national governance of PAVA use have been introduced, the problem persists, and the rollout of PAVA spray carries on regardless.

A recent thematic report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons highlighted the scale of the challenge that remains in bridging radically different perceptions of the extent of racism in prisons. Black prisoners and staff described examples of persistent race discrimination in their prison, while white staff felt there was very little or none. The Government’s response to that report, published on 22 March, contains a sequence of further promised initiatives but no evidence to change PRT’s assessment of progress against the Lammy recommendations.

Readers can download a full copy  of PRT’s RAG table assessing progress here.

The analysis

The Prison Reform Trust gathered evidence to determine whether policies had changed to meet the recommendations, and – crucially – whether outcomes had improved (impact). In line with Lammy’s emphasis on the need for increased transparency, it has relied only on evidence in the public domain.

PRT’s analysis was influenced by factors that are constant in the field of race equality and discrimination:

  • Race is one of many factors that influence a person’s experience of criminal justice. Other protected characteristics, such as age, gender, and disability intersect with ethnicity. Inequalities in living standards, education, and health also affect criminal justice outcomes.
  • The impact of a person’s race on their treatment can range from perceptions based on widely shared cultural assumptions to deliberate, malicious abuse of power based on a sense of superiority over another race.
  • The scale of disproportionate outcomes among BAME prisoners cannot possibly be caused solely by the minority of officers who deliberately abuse their authority to exercise racist attitudes; rather, disproportionate outcomes largely reflect decisions made by the majority of managers and staff.

Accompanying the launch of this report, PRT director Peter Dawson commented:

More than five years on since David Lammy’s review revealed the shocking extent of racial disproportionality in our criminal justice system, our report shows that many of the issues he identified remain stubbornly persistent.

Some of this is hard to excuse — such as the failure to publish transparent data; but some of it demonstrates the need to move beyond policy writing, and to find out if those policies are making the difference they’re meant to. A recent assessment by prison inspectors strongly suggests that they’re not, and the Government’s response contains no evidence to change that assessment.

With no update of progress in over three years, and no record of whether policies and practice have been changed when disproportionality is identified, it’s far from clear that this subject really matters to ministers.”


Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here

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