Britain is facing a “social timebomb” due to racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, according to a landmark inquiry.

Prosecutions of some ethnic minority offenders should be dropped or deferred to tackle the “bias” and “overt discrimination” in the system, a highly critical report suggests.

The Lammy Review led by Labour MP David Lammy at former prime minister David Cameron’s request, makes a series of 35 recommendations to improve how Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people are treated within criminal justice system.

The government said it will “look carefully” at the suggestions.

Reducing Racial bias

Lammy says the over-representation BAME people in prison is well known, but that his inquiry looked into potential treatment and outcomes.

“This is not about letting offenders off – precisely the opposite. More enforcement must be focused on powerful adults, further up criminal hierarchies,” he writes.

He suggests making allowances for younger defendants’ immaturity and sealing criminal records to help ex-offenders find work.

Other recommendations include a national target for greater diversity with greater representation in the judiciary, making charging decisions “race blind” by redacting identifying information from case files and more data collection on the ethnicity and religion of offenders.

Lammy review – representation of BAME in criminial justice system

The report found that BAME young offenders in custody rose from 25% to 41% between 2006 and 2016 despite the overall number falling to record lows.

For drugs, the report shows BAME people were 240% more likely to be sent to prison than white offenders.

The report recommends rehabilitation programmes for offenders needing drug or alcohol treatments. If that is successful, the charges would then be dropped.

The idea was trialled through a pilot called Operation Turning Point, in the West Midlands, between 2011 and 2014.

Building trust

The Lammy Review shows trust is a major issue and ethnic minorities do not trust advice from their solicitor or police officers when it comes to pleading guilty. Black offenders were more likely to plead not guilty between 2006 and 2014, leading to more trials and longer sentences.

There is also an atmosphere of “us” and “them” in prisons as many BAME people believe they are actively discriminated against, the report finds.

Another worrying trend is that the number of Muslims account for 15% of Britain’s prisoners – a 50% increase in the last decade – despite being under five percent of its population.

“BAME children in custody are less likely to be recorded as having substance misuse concerns, to be at risk of self-harm, to have learning difficulties, to have mental health concerns, to be disengaged from education, and to have problematic family relationships. The pattern is too consistent to ignore,” writes Lammy.

He argues these problems are not picked up in minority ethnic children as often as in white children.

The report shows that while many problems surrounding the criminal justice system need to be fixed outside it, such as growing up in the care system or poverty, much can be done to improve it from within too.

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