A Guardian analysis of government figures released in April this year has revealed an alarming increase in the proportion of young offenders from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds.
The figures, issued by the Youth Justice Board (YJB), show that from 2014-15, 40% of prisoners aged under 18 were from BME backgrounds. The BME population as a proportion of the UK total population is 14.1%.
Whilst there has been a significant reduction in the amount of young people in state custody since 2005, the number of BME youths in prison has not fallen significantly.
The Guardian reports that the proportion of Asian prisoners in youth custody has increased by 75% and one in five young prisoners is Black, a 67% rise. Contrastingly, the proportion of white youth offenders has dropped from almost 75% of detainees to 60%.
A former regional prison manager, Kashan Amar, believes that the worryingly disproportionate figures have much to do with the high percentage of reoffenders, particularly Muslim youths. Amar argues four out of five young Muslims reoffend after release for several reasons left unaddressed by authorities contributing to the over-representation of Muslims in the prison population.
“There is a significant barrier on resettlement for Muslims, lack of community support and taboo amongst their families,” Amar explains.
“We see that Muslims are under-represented in sex offender and substance rehabilitation programmes, for example,” he added.
A report by The Young Review published in December 2014, entitled ‘Improving outcomes for young black and/or Muslim men in the Criminal Justice System’, led by Baroness Young, found that despite less than 1% of offences by Muslims being terrorism related, the authorities continue to view the community as a whole “with suspicion.”
The report revealed the level of racism within the justice system, where black offenders “are stereotyped as drug dealers, and Muslim prisoners as terrorists”.
In addition, BME offenders were more likely to receive custodial sentences than white offenders, even for the same offence.
The Institute of Race Relations released figures showing that ethnic minorities are facing discrimination at each stage of the criminal justice process, from initial police checks to the likelihood of imprisonment and the length of sentence, compared to white Britons.
An Asian offender was found to be 19% more likely to be given a prison sentence for shoplifting and 41% more likely for a drug offence than a white person, according to IRR’s analysis.
Baroness Young believes argues that successive governments have “not taken the issue seriously” and institutional racism is not the only issue that needs to be confronted when looking for solutions.
According to The Young Review report, Britain has greater disproportionate representation of young black and Muslim inmates than the United States.
The Conservative Government have voiced its concern over stop and search ratios, insisting they will bring in legislation if figures do not improve, but have yet to address the wider issue of discrimination at all phases of the criminal justice process.
Efforts to make stop and search data transparent, and therefore police officers more accountable, have recently been introduced. In January this year police forces began publishing details on stops and searches online including details on the ethnicity, gender and age range. But this is only a small part of a much wider problem and while Labour have raised the issue of the rising number of Muslim prisoners, the Government has, to date, not put forward policy initiatives to address the problem.