Black and mixed ethnicity women are more than twice as likely as white women in the general population to be arrested, according to a new report published today (31 August) by the Prison Reform Trust.

Black women are also more likely than other women to be remanded or sentenced to custody, and are 25% more likely than white women to receive a custodial sentence following a conviction, the report reveals. Black, Asian and minority ethnic women make up 11.9% of the women’s population in England and Wales, but account for 18% of the women’s prison population.

The Lammy Review, chaired by David Lammy MP, is an independent review commissioned by the Prime Minister of the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system.

This report, Counted Out, is timely and has been submitted to the Lammy review ahead of its launch in September, to highlight the overlooked inequalities experienced by many Black, Asian and minority ethnic women in the criminal justice system.

Other key findings include:

  • Black, Asian and minority ethnic women are more likely to plead not guilty in the Crown Court, leaving them open to potentially longer prison sentences if convicted;

  • Whilst in prison, Black, Asian and minority ethnic women consistently report feeling less safe; and

  • Many report experiencing racial and religious discrimination from other prisoners and from staff whilst in prison.

At a time when much focus and attention is being given to addressing the critical safety challenges in our wider prison system, progress in tackling racial discrimination and over-representation in our justice system has been allowed to slip—with evidence of racial bias stubbornly persisting. This was recognised by the Prime Minister in August 2016 when she ordered an audit of racial disparities in public services and commissioned the review by David Lammy MP, and evidenced in his interim findings last year.

Despite sharing the same concerns and challenges faced by men and women from other ethnic backgrounds, the report highlights that for many their experience of the criminal justice system differs depending on their ethnicity.

The research also uncovered marked local and regional variations. For example in London, where 9.8% of women are black, they made up 20.7% of first time entrants into the criminal justice system. In West Yorkshire, where 1.8% of the general population of women are black, at least 3.7% of first time entrants are black.

However, the report found startling gaps in what data on gender and ethnicity is both recorded and published. In West Yorkshire, ethnicity was unrecorded for 31% of women first time entrants; and whilst there has been an increase in available data nationally, there are still significant limitations, which create a barrier to progress. The report also uncovered a complete absence of data on Black, Asian and minority ethnic women in the criminal justice workforce.

The available evidence suggests that women from minority ethnic groups are disadvantaged compared to white women in the criminal justice system. The report includes a number of recommendations for agencies to address this, assisting them in reducing crime and reoffending, improving outcomes for vulnerable women and their families, and tackling discrimination:

  • The forthcoming government strategy on female offenders, to be published this year, should include specific measures to improve outcomes for Black, Asian and minority ethnic women, and women from minority faith communities in contact with the criminal justice system.

  • National and local government, as well as criminal justice agencies, should improve data monitoring and publishing practices to allow analysis of performance by both race and gender. This would establish an accurate baseline of current performance and enable monitoring of progress over time.

  • The representation of women from minority ethnic groups in the criminal justice workforce, as well as in juries, should be increased to better reflect the communities that they serve and achieve cultural change.

  • Agencies should increase awareness and understanding by seeking support from women from minority ethnic groups with experience of the criminal justice system. This should be underpinned with expert support from specialist, woman-centred organisations working within minority ethnic communities.

Commenting, Jenny Earle, director of the Prison Reform Trust’s programme to reduce women’s imprisonment said:

“This briefing lays bare the racial inequalities and disadvantages that women experience in the criminal justice system. With the report of the Lammy review imminent and the government strategy on women offenders due later in the year, the briefing is timely and makes a compelling case for investment in dedicated women’s community services rather than more prisons.”

Click here to download a copy of the report.