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Monday, December 6, 2021

Many young black offenders are victims of ‘war zone’ estates, claims report

Many young black offenders should be treated as victims because they are living on estates that are like “war zones”, according to a major report on race by the chief inspector of probation.

Justin Russell said he wanted to move away from terms such as “young offender” because it failed to recognise that many black and mixed race children in his report were also victims.

The report on race in youth justice – based on 173 black and mixed race boys prosecuted by police – said a “significant number” had been brought up on big estates where they had been criminally groomed and exploited.

“One boy described his local area in London as a ‘war zone’, stating that making the wrong decisions can lead to being killed or sent to prison,” the report said.

Racial discrimination was commonplace and seen by the boys as “just the way it is”. They had a “fatalistic acceptance” that they would be treated differently because of their ethnicity and that they would be stopped and searched up to three or four times a week.

Failure by social workers to intervene earlier

Twenty-seven per cent of children aged 10 to 17 who were cautioned or convicted in 2019 were of black, Asian and minority ethnic origin, yet they only comprised 18 per cent of the age group.

Mr Russell said many of the 173 children tracked in the report had only ended up in court because of a failure by social workers, teachers and other agencies to intervene earlier, meaning their needs were being supported for the first time through the criminal justice system.

Sixty per cent of those who had received a court sentence had been excluded from school. Half the boys in the inspected cases had faced racial discrimination in their life, a third had been victims of criminal exploitation and a quarter had a disability.

“Youth justice staff told us the majority of black and mixed heritage boys that they work with have multiple and complex needs, for example with education or emotional and mental health issues,” Mr Russell said. “Yet many of these children are only receiving support with these needs for the first time through the criminal justice system. This is simply unacceptable.

“We have to question why social services, education teams and other agencies are not intervening earlier. Why are these boys less likely to be referred to early help services or more likely to be excluded from school than their white peers?

“Youth justice workers are united in the view that the early detection of problems would have led to different outcomes for these children. Instead, these boys are acquiring criminal records that can have life-long consequences.”

Mr Russell said ending the disproportionate number of black and mixed race boys in the youth justice system had been a “long-standing goal”, but he added: “We found a lack of clarity and curiosity about why this disparity exists and what needs to be done to change it.

“Good intentions must translate to positive practice and real improvements across the country. More must be done to understand and meet these children’s needs earlier on, to prevent yet more black and mixed heritage boys from entering the criminal justice system further down the line.”

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