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Improving outcomes for young black and Muslim men in the justice system

Minutes of the All-Party Penal Affairs Parliamentary Group held on 13 January 2015 at 5.00 pm in Committee Room 15

Speakers 

Baroness Lola Young (www.youngreview.org),  and Imtiaz Amin CEO of the Zahid Mubarek Trust

Present

Dominic Grieve MP, in the chair
Baroness Howe of Idlicote
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Baroness Masham of Ilton
Lord Woolf
Kate Green MP
James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester

Mark Day welcomed everyone to the first APPG meeting for 2015 and said that before beginning the main business of the meeting, the group needed to formally confirm the nomination of the co-chair. In accordance with the rules on APGs, a notice was placed in last week’s all party notices with a request for nominations for the position. The Rt Hon Dominic Grieve MP had indicated his willingness to be nominated for the position and given that there were no further nominations for the position of co-chair, Mark confirmed Dominic as co-chair of the group. Mark then handed over to Dominic to chair the main business of the meeting.

Dominic thanked Mark and introduced the topic of the meeting, ‘Improving Outcomes for Young Black and Muslim Men in the Justice System’. Baroness Young would be discussing the findings of her recently published report and Imtiaz Amin,  CEO of the Zahid Mubarek Trust, would also be speaking. Mr Grieve introduced Baroness Young.

Baroness Young began ‘Thank you very much indeed and thank you for inviting me along this evening. This is really the first public event post the launch of the report which we did in the House of Lords, which seems like an age ago but was actually at the beginning of December. Let me get started, ten minutes and I will try and be disciplined, please do feel free to remind me when I only have a couple of minutes left. Our aim with the Young Review was to consider how existing knowledge regarding disproportionately negative outcomes  experienced by black and Muslim male offenders between the ages of 18 and 24yrs - how those experiences may be applied, may be thought about , may be considered in the significantly transformed environment introduced under the transforming rehabilitation reforms .

So some of the key statistics are actually quite startling – many of you will be aware of this but for those of you aren’t and as a reminder for those you are it is really important that we note the disproportionality. One of the shocking statistics is that in this country, we have a disproportionate number of black people in prison, yes we know that, but the disproportionality is greater in the UK in regard to the general population than it is the US and that is quite startling, because from this side of the Atlantic we think things have gone so terribly wrong in the criminal justice system in the US, in relation to particularly, black men being incarcerated, but here we do have a substantial issue too. So black people account for 13.1% of the prison population compared with approximately 2.9% of the population as a whole, and that’s according to a 2011 census. Now with regard to Muslim offenders, since 2002 the percentage of Muslims in prisons in England and Wales has nearly doubled from 7.7% to 13.4%. In comparison, Muslims make up only 4.2% of the general population, so here again, we have significant over-representation.

We look at what has come to be known as BAME, black, Asian, minority ethnic representation. And I should say, these categories are all contested and all really difficult, because they are down to self-identification of offenders as they go into the prison, some people may choose not to fill in the form, some people may use categories that we wouldn’t necessarily recognise and so on and so forth. Plus it is also quite difficult to read across the different institutions and organisations as to how they collect the figures but generally speaking, black Asian and ethnic minority representation in the prison population is very heavily influenced by age. There are proportionally very many more young male prisoners from that category than older ones. BAME representation in the 15-17 age group is the highest at 43.7%. So again, substantial numbers.  In prison black or mixed origin service users are subject to higher rates of adjudication than white service users, spend more days than average in segregation and are more frequently subject to the use of force. So that’s the kind of statistical landscape as it were, which is the backdrop against which we have been working. Many of you will be familiar with some of those statistics. It is really important to look at them in terms of the implications, particularly the ones about age, we have got that percentage in the 15-17 age group, and if we continue with the current rates of reoffending, then we have a got a huge problem coming up further down the line.

In 2013, CLINKS and BTEG (Black, Training and Enterprise Group), and colleagues are here from both of those organisations this evening, convened a roundtable discussion which I chaired, which was again focussed on outcomes for BAME offenders. Members of the roundtable group proposed that a taskgroup be convened to further explore and take forward this issue. I think for all of us, there was this really strong sense that this wasn’t a new problem or a new challenge-  it was something that has been going on for nearly a decade you might say – but the discussion of the debates around race and ethnicity have gradually been slipping down the agenda within the criminal justice system, as other seemingly  more important issues rose up the agenda. So there was a sense that somehow, partly because the problem was seen as so difficult and complex, that we didn’t know how to address it, and partly because here were these other imperatives operating, there was a perception, and partly from the other organisations we spoke to as well, that this was not at the top of the agenda and part of our aim was to make sure it would be so. So the establishment of the task group was the first step, and then I was asked to chair that task group, and along with colleagues from BTEG and CLINKS, we met with the Secretary of State, Chris Grayling, in the autumn of 2013, and we agreed at that meeting that the focus would be on young, black and/or young Muslim men. I’m sure we could have an interesting debate that would go on for hours afterwards about even looking at that as a category, how we put those two categories together, and and/or in the middle is actually quite important, who has been left out , if we were going to talk about it in those terms and so on and so forth. As I say, hopefully we can have some debate about that. We were persuaded that would be quite important to do in the context of these, particularly in the rates of reoffending amongst those two groups not going down, and particularly in terms of a disproportionality, we thought that there were some synergies to be had by looking at Muslim men and black/mixed heritage men. 

So our grouping was around 18-24 year old males, who identified as black British, black African, black Caribbean, Muslim or mixed heritage or origin or includes one of the above. Most of the data that we collect, however, is actually focussed on all people, men and women, of black and minority ethnic origin. So that in itself represents a challenge that we think needs to be addressed. In terms of our methodology, what we did was set up the taskgroup, which comprised ex-offenders, representatives from the voluntary sector, statutory sector, private and academic sectors were colleagues on that task group, some of whom are here this evening, to advise and to shape and review. We held discussion groups with offenders and ex-offenders in prisons and community settings along with organisations that provide services to them, and we examined the available literature and data relating to young black and/or Muslim offenders. In terms of the conclusions and recommendations – the outcomes for this group of offenders can’t be understood in isolation from the wider context of disadvantage they experience and the unequal outcomes at earlier stages of the criminal justice system – not only are the roots of some of these issues and challenges within the criminal justice system, but arguably the education system, in mental health services and health services in general and so on. So in that sense, it is a really complex issue. Arguably, it is just as complex for white male offenders in a certain age group, but what we argue is that added experience of racism, or discrimination and of poor outcomes in the education system and care system, those are added factors that meant that there is a substantially different context for black and Muslim prisoners.

Nearly all the offenders we met said they had experienced differential treatment due to their race, ethnicity or faith. In the context of these multiple disadvantages, support for this group of young men to desist must provide opportunities for them to build positive identities. Now that might seem quite an abstract recommendation to include in the report, but the fact of the matter was that every offender and ex-offender that we spoke to from any of those groups was very clear about how this sense of identity, whether that was an ethnic identity, a racial identity or a faith identity, felt consistently under siege in society. And I’m sure I don’t need to spell out the ways in which young Muslim men feel under siege for their faith and they ways in which they get labelled as terrorists and so on and so forth. For young black men, the labelling is around gangs and mental ill health. So nobody was using it as an excuse, but what they were pointing to is the ways in which this made them feel very unstable in terms of their forms of identification, the ways in which they could identify with society.  So that is a big issue, and I think then we have to think about the ways in which we can try to reinforce positive identities for these groups of young men.

Following on from that, politicians and statutory agencies insufficiently understand the implications for resettlement of disadvantage within these communities and the crude stereotyping. So that’s really about agencies, organisations and individuals within them coming to an understanding of what it actually means to grow up in that kind of context. It’s actually really difficult. We concluded – and I’m sure we’d all agree on this- that the voluntary sector has a vital role to play in supporting the development of social capital that can in turn facilitate positive resettlement outcomes. And again this turns on this issue of identity, not only as individuals but as communities and as different parts of societies. How can we help people to feel that they have a stake in society when we don’t understand where they are coming from.  So it’s absolutely vital.  Voluntary sector, as under constraint as it is, has a huge role to play and continues to play that role, particularly from those communities, but then again the issue is how we make sure that is reinforced under this transformation of the rehabilitation landscape.

So representatives and organisations from BAME communities working in partnership with the criminal justice system were found to improve prisoners’ perceptions of relationships with institutions. So there is really quite a critical point to make – how do we make sure that black, Asian, Muslim community based organisations are enabled to help develop those relationships that will, perhaps, have some positive impact on these young men. Organisations including offenders and ex-offenders themselves, with an understanding of the lived experience of this group, should play an integral role in the planning and delivery of services. Now again, this is something that lots of people subscribe to and, indeed, the Secretary of State was very clear when we met him that we absolutely should have at least one person on the task group who had that personal experience of the system and we did – we had several members who had that experience and as I say, we met several people who had that experience. So there is a sense in which everybody agrees that this is a good idea that we have those men, in this case, talk to and try and support and mentor young black and Muslim men so that they can desist and know how to build the resilience to desist from reoffending. However, even though everyone seems to agree about it, the mechanics of doing that are not as straightforward as it may seem. In one session of the task group we had a representative from NOMS coming in to talk about that whole process of getting ex-offenders into prisons to talk to offenders – several members of the task group highlighted the difficulties they had experienced in being able to do that. So again, the point is, if we really are serious about wanting to do this, then we have to find the mechanisms that enable that to be done effectively.

Next steps, there are some really positive things that have come out already I should say, but let us be clear that there is a justifiable amount of not exactly cynicism, but I guess realism, that we are working in a context of austerity, we are working in the context that the voluntary sector is experiencing real difficulties, so it is not as if it is going to be easy, but there have been some positive moves so far. So the Ministry of Justice have committed to working with us to establish an advisory group to improving outcomes for this particular group, which can act as a critical friend and provide support to government and new independent providers. And I know that again, some people will think we have had the report and that will sit on the shelf for a few years until next time and now we have a separate advisory group that will just be a talking shop, but as all the people on the board are, we are determined that neither of those things should happen. We have been impressed with the Ministry of Justice officials who are working very hard, in fact they are pushing us to get the establishment of this advisory group underway, up and running, so we can get on and do the job. Part of the role of that group will be to keep looking at the recommendations and the conclusions of this report to ensure that as much of that is implemented as possible. Importantly too, we are also in discussion with a group of funders about the best mechanisms to taking this forward and ensuring it remains at the top of the criminal justice agenda. And that is again a heartening development, in fact, Barrow Cadbury who are the funders of this particular piece of work that we did, have indicated that they are looking positively at consideration of a proposal that BTEC has submitted that will give a life to the report in addition to the advisory group. That will be something that we hope will come through and we will keep those of you who are interested on developments there.

Finally, in terms of our next steps, we are all agreed that it is really important to ensure that we have cross party support for doing something about this issue. None of us wants to see these figures worsen and all of us I can imagine want to see them improve. It’s not about scoring political points, it’s about seeing how we can best serve the communities from which these young men come and wider society as a whole.  It’s blatantly obvious but I’ll say it nonetheless, the more people who re-offend and commit crimes, the worse it is for all of us. None of us wants to see that happen. So there are very concrete things that people can do, that organisations can do, that politicians and policy makers can do, to try and make a really big push on this once and for all, because the situation, I feel,  has gone on for a long time and maybe others feel that way too.

So as you see, I’ve got some copies of the report  here – we’re trying to encourage those of you who are comfortable reading it onscreen, there is a website and I’m going to give Mark the website address – I’ll just say it quickly now – www.youngreview.org – but I will give that to Mark to distribute in the minutes. However, as I said, we’ve got some reports here to give out and anybody who wants further details can email me and I will give Mark my parliamentary email address so we can get in touch – but really what we wanted to do and what I hope we have achieved is to get people on board with this. It’s not about beating people over the head, it’s about saying, although we probably could resort to some of that as well – it’s really about saying that there are lots of ways in which we think that we can make improvements in the system and that’s what we want to do.

Just one final point, which is that there are a number of peers that are doing various bits of work around the criminal justice system at the moment and we think there is quite a lot of synergy and there is quite a lot of overlaps – there is quite a lot of work on deaths in custody and self-harming in prisons, there’s  work that’s being done on BAME communities and mental health, there’s work that’s being done on the care system, and in many ways there is  quite a body of work potentially and also, potentially a group of people who can work together, especially where some of the overlaps are, to try and make those improvements. And all of that is suggested in a positive way, in the sense to improve the situation into which we find ourselves, because I think the only thing we really don’t want to see is as I suggested earlier is that in 5 or 10 years’ time, another report coming out and saying ‘did you know that the disproportionality is so and so’. So thank you very much.

Dominic Grieve thanked Baroness Young and said that he looked forward to reading the report in detail. He then introduced Imtiaz Amin.

Imtiaz Amin began ‘Thank you for this opportunity to speak here in front of the group to present our point of view on the issue of improving outcomes for young black and Muslim men in the criminal justice system.

The Zahid Mubarek Trust was set up in 2008 by Zahid’s family and their supporters with the aim of establishing a legacy for Zahid which would go on to improve the wellbeing of others and to ensure that lessons are learnt from his death. The ZMT has always played a role of an independent, external scrutiniser to work with authorities including the voluntary and statutory sector to ensure that the recommendations stemming from the Zahid Mubarek Inquiry are not shelved and forgotten as has been the case with previous inquiries. This is of particular concern given that the issues raised by Justice Keith back in 2006 are still as relevant almost a decade later, especially in the context of the outcomes for Black and Muslim prisoners.

The ZMT currently operates within nine prison establishments across the Greater London region. Our projects include the monitoring of the Keith recommendations and the Independent Scrutiny Panel (ISP) project which monitors the effectiveness of the Equalities policy within prison establishments. As external scrutiniser, our evidence is based on having viewed over 1500 complaints of discrimination since 2011, gathered through monthly visits to each establishment, prisoner focus groups and questionnaires and our support service for both prisoners and their families.

As recently described by NOMS in 2010, Zahid’s tragic murder marked a watershed in the history of tackling race relations across the Prison System. Many significant policy level changes were initiated that led to some positive changes in the day-to-day running of prisons. One such achievement was the race equality policy, PSO 2800 was revised through 9 of the 88 Keith recommendations. It was designed to counter systemic failures within the prison system in terms of racism and discrimination. PSO 2800 was one of NOMS most comprehensive policy documents which was followed by an ambitious programme of work on race equality, and fully supported by an equality dept based at HQ of 26 Staff members. This document was reviewed in 2008 and concluded that although it was a sound policy ‘a lot needed to be done on the ground’ however it was a step in the right direction. Since the old PSO 2800 we saw the introduction of the equality act 2010 followed by the rollout of a new and current policy PSI 32 Ensuring Equality. This new policy became operational in 2011 and covered a range of protected characteristics alongside race relations. The development of this policy also coincided with unprecedented budgetary cuts which saw wholesale reductions in prisons budgets and this reflected the management of equality across the board starting with a streamlined equality department based in HQ, consisting of only three staff members. So this policy was implemented without sufficient resources and support from policy makers which placed additional pressure on the already under resourced, understaffed and overcrowded prison establishments. The ZMT believes that this period marked a downhill trend across prisons in terms of outcomes for BAME prisoners.

Over the years, a number of reports produced by organisations such as HMIP, PRT and the most recent review by Baroness Young, have in conclusion provided consistency in their findings regarding the negative perceptions of Black and Minority Ethnic prisoners.

Are there sufficient resources, policies and practices in place to tackle direct and indirect discrimination persistently mentioned by significant number of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic prisoners? 

I will endeavour to answer this question by analysing the current equality policy and its developments in comparison to the previous race equality policy.

1. PSI 32/2011 does not focus on race solely but covers nine protected characteristics and this brought changes to the internal complaints system. Implemented under limited budgets, limited support from a reduced Equality Dept at NOMS, limited training etc, this policy caused confusion across prisons where there exists little understanding of 9 protected characteristics for staff and prisoners alike.

2. The Race Equality Officer’s role was previously a fulltime post filled by a non operational member of staff or recruited externally as recommended by Justice Keith. This has been replaced by an Equality Officer who rather than being an independent dedicated full time staff member, are redeployed from amongst wing officers on a part time basis. Prisons have lost learning and expertise as a result. The Equality Officers role is now a ‘bolt on’ to the many other responsibilities of prison officers who in the best case scenario can only dedicate up 20% of their time to this role as severe staff shortages require staff to manage the wings as a priority. This situation also causes further impact on prisoner confidence as it means that staff members are investigating complaints of discrimination against fellow staff members.

3. The current policy provides fewer guidelines for staff investigating complaints of discrimination which now fall within the same guidelines as general prisoner complaints. This means that there is less protection and priority for prisoners during the investigation. There is no formal training provided to staff in charge of the investigation process and current staff shortages and lack of necessary skills leave complaints investigated with significant delay sometimes 2-3 months later.

4. External scrutiny and quality check of complaints is no longer an order but advised as best practice. According to the old race equality policy, external monitoring and scrutiny of the establishment was seen as best practice because it would provide positive outcomes for BAME prisoners and would result in increased trust and confidence of local communities. Under the current policy, very few prisons maintain external intervention. Within 10 London prisons, we are the only organisation who operate such service which is fully funded by independent foundations. For accuracy, traditionally the IMB was tasked with the role of scrutiny for prisoner complaints, however, as of 2012, the IMB reference manual clearly states that ‘acting as a DIRF complaints scrutiniser represents a potential conflict of interest’.

5. The latest changes have had an impact on the staff training as well. According to previous policy, race equality and diversity issues were incorporated into the Prison Service’s general training provision and named ‘Challenge It Change It’ and was made mandatory for staff. This training has now been made non-mandatory and is delivered online with no mechanisms to monitor the effectiveness of the training, or impact on the ground in terms of staff and BAME prisoner relations.

6. The previous policy incorporated an information session for new prisoners on reception regarding race equality for offenders which covered Race equality, ie, what constitutes a racist incident, how to complain, how it will be investigated, procedures of protection and so on but especially important for young first time offenders. The Induction period previously lasted 5 days and is now reduced to 3 which does not allow enough and sufficient time for prisoners to understand the system, in some cases induction booklets do not include the information about Discrimination Incident Reporting process at all. Through our prisoner questionnaires, we received feedback which suggested that across two YOIs, over 56% didn’t know how to make a complaint of discrimination and could not identify the correct form.

7. The current equalities policy has been graded as advisory in contrast to its predecessor which was mandatory. As described within the document ‘it is designed to allow Governors greater discretion and flexibility in how they go about delivering the required outcomes’. In theory this may be seen as a good approach in terms of addressing the needs and challenges of diverse establishments. Taking into consideration severe budgetary cuts, the reality is that equality departments have become the first casualties of recent changes and savings. In our view, these changes and financial pressures provide the reason why the number of submitted Discrimination Incident Reporting Forms has fallen by 50% in most establishments (of which complaints of Race and Religion still constitute 84%).

8. This fall reflects a parallel fall in prisoners’ confidence in the complaints system is at an all time low. And this is not just related to the BAME population, but to representatives of all protected characteristics. We have contact with prisoners who are in despair at the fact that they simply will not be heard with fairness and transparency which is crucial given the high levels of prisoners which enter the prison system with vulnerabilities such as mental health, drug and alcohol dependency, social exclusion and so on. In these circumstances it is very easy to see how the prison experience in its current state, would further exacerbate those conditions.

A safe, decent environment is a precondition to successful rehabilitation.  We have to ask ourselves: is it possible in the current environment to meet the needs of a growing diverse population, particularly Black and Muslim prisoners?  Is the equality’s agenda really accepted to be an important ingredient in the successful resettlement and rehabilitation of offenders?

Dominic Grieve thanked Imtiaz Amin and took questions and comments from the group.

A comment was made that the Young report only addresses black and Muslim young men and does not include gypsy, Roma and traveler groups which are also over-represented in the criminal justice system. 

A question was asked about whether there were disproportionate numbers of self-inflicted deaths among BAME groups.

Baroness Young said there were a whole different set of issues around traveler, gypsy and Roma communities, “about which we did not have the competence or the resources to address, so I think that is a piece of work that needs to be done.  I had brief discussions with a lot of people about it, but I don’t think it would have worked in the context of the groups that we wanted to look at. Regarding outcomes on self-inflicted death, actually, we gave evidence to Lord Harris’s investigation because he asked us to and when we looked for statistics, I don’t think there is data available to support the case either way, on whether there are more or less or proportionate or disproportionate numbers of black and minority ethnic people involved in self-inflicted deaths.”

Imtiaz agreed with Baroness Young about the complexities with associated groups other than the BAME. “Some of the issues that I mentioned today which are causing the lack of confidence within the system are also affecting those groups as well. I think that if we had a robust policy in place that was being supported on the ground, then this would go a long way to improving circumstances for all groups, not just BAME.”

A question was asked about bullying and whether monitors were doing the job that they should be doing.

Baroness Young said it came back to the issue of the culture of the institution. “In one of the prisons we visited there was a group of Muslim offenders and there had been a very difficult incident in the prison where some white prisoners had copied the Koran, so this is a potentially dangerous situation. What they said was that it was dealt with swiftly, and this is through the Imam who had a lot of respect from staff and from the prisoners. The Imam and governor dealt with it quickly and transparently and they said that that really, was what helped to make the difference – that people knew what was going on, they knew it was going to be dealt with and that something was going to happen as a result of that and that was an example of a positive outcome from a very negative and difficult situation.”

Dr Kimmett Edgar of PRT said that a 2000 study showed that the complaint process not a problem but that the problem was more in how it was dealt with – things have gotten worse. He said cuts had taken away from the diversity and equality role of officers.

Juliet Lyon of PRT said radicalization needed to be addressed in a different way by addressing alienation.

Imtiaz – “There really needs to be a strong message from the top  that equality is still top of the agenda and this should start from the headquarters, going down from the governors and down to the staff – that is the starting point and that is what we saw back in 2006 when the PSO 2800 was implemented and we had huge support – there was actually a bus going up and down the country to each prison, just to deliver training and now that’s absolutely not the case – a lot of prisoners feel that they are just not supported in their development where equality is concerned.”

Baroness Young noted some of the differences in the role of faith in black communities and Muslim communities. “Those are two very different landscapes and some of the conversations we had about the role of mosques were about how to get them involved in a different sort of way because there is a level of stigmatization of offenders that wasn’t necessarily helpful and would not necessarily be that sort of problem in prison churches, it didn’t feel like there was a caucus or agreement of churches that were addressing that.“

“To come to Juliet’s point about radicalization – we were very clear that when you include Muslim groups there are ideas about terrorists and this is part of the problem – Muslim offenders that we spoke to spoke about their faith being their strength – that helped them to deal with their anger and disaffection as a positive thing, not something that made them want to run off and become a terrorist. So I think that we do need to rethink the way that we approach Muslim prisoners – it should not always be from the premise that this is an issue of radicalization. In fact, the whole issue of converts and reverts and so on – we didn’t address that although there is a piece of work to be done there – if you look at some of the young black men who have converted to Islam it has been a positive move for them and interestingly, one of the fastest rising groups that are converting to Islam in prison are white English prisoners. So that’s another interesting facet. And if you start from the premise that this is a problem – this is all about radicalization and that as soon as you convert to Islam you’re somehow going to be a radical terrorist that is going to be a huge part of the problem.

Imtiaz – “From a prisoner’s perspective, we have prisoners who are being categorized as a security risk after having basic discussions on incidents that have occurred in society, for example. We feel that there is a huge lack of understanding in the way the authorities are approaching this issue, and certainly for prisoners, I think that an Imam should be the obvious port of call for determining complaints that may downgrade an inmate to a security issue. Many complaints that we have seen have been just conversations, and unfortunately they have been misinterpreted and the person has been reprimanded as result where they didn’t need to. Where the Imams are doing a great job in the prisons, we are not seeing enough of their involvement in procedures.”

A question was asked about gang violence.

Imtiaz – “I think that there has always been a problem with violence amongst prison gang members within the institution itself – I ask myself why there is such high violence when offenders are locked up for such long hours in their cell each and every day, because - certainly from our experience - they are not necessarily seeing a huge  amount of violence which is specifically because of gang related issues.  Some of the gangs that are formed within the prison and not brought in from outsiders as people are suggesting. One of the things that we have been advocating is that the issue needs to be dealt with by the authorities rather than sending the young offenders to adult institutions.

Mr Grieve thanked both speakers. The next meeting is on 3 Feb 5-6pm – Simon Hughes speaking on women and employment, Jocelyn Hillman,  Founder and CE of Working Chance and Jenny Earle of the PRT.