Reducing racial disparities in youth justice
A three-year project, focused primarily on remand and joint enterprise.
Decades of reports, reviews, and inquiries – from Macpherson to Lammy – have attested to the fact that racism pervades the criminal justice system.
This structural discrimination starts early – Black children are four times more likely to be arrested, and three times more likely to be stopped and searched, than their White counterparts. Children from ethnic minority backgrounds make up over half of the remand population, and Black Caribbean children are up to six times more likely to be excluded from school. Nowhere is this more acute than custody, where despite comprising just 4 per cent of 10- to 17-year olds, Black children now account for almost one in three children in prison.
Against this backdrop, the Howard League has launched a three-year project to interrogate racial disparities in youth justice, asking why children from Black, Brown and Racialised backgrounds are overrepresented in custody, and what we can do about it.
Over the first two years, our work will focus on remand and joint enterprise.
Our remand work looks at the causes of disparity in youth custodial remand. According to government policy, youth custodial remand should only be used as a last resort. But with record numbers of children remanded to custody (and most of them Black), it is clear that this policy is not being implemented effectively, or evenly.
To understand the reasons behind this, we will speak to a variety of key actors in the decision-making process, including Youth Justice Services, magistrates, legal practitioners, children on, or with experience of, remand, staff in secure settings, and Local Authority placements teams.
This work will form an evidence base with which to lobby decision makers across government, policy, and the judiciary, in order to reduce the use of remand and improve outcomes for Black, Brown and Racialised children.
The racial disparities work at the Howard League is rooted in a belief that the answers to crime lie not in the criminal justice system, but in a more fair and equitable society, one investing in education, housing, employment and health. As such, it aims to interrogate the conditions that produce poverty, racism, and crime, and to explore the ways in which such conditions have been baked into our legal and social processes. We believe that every child – and person – is better than their worst moment or decision, and that excessive punishment harms the fabric of society.
The project was launched in February 2023, with an event titled ‘What would an anti-racist youth justice system look like?’
Among the speakers at the event, held at the London office of law firm Travers Smith LLP, were: Baroness Chakrabarti, former shadow attorney general; Keir Monteith KC, criminal defence barrister at Garden Court Chambers; and Aika Stephenson, solicitor and youth justice expert at Just for Kids Law.
In 2020, in association with Black Protest Legal and an expert advisory board, we developed a guide for antiracist lawyers.
The guide was aimed at helping practitioners to: educate themselves; ask the right questions; gather the right information and make representations to change outcomes for Black people in the criminal justice system.
Watch the speeches from the project launch event below: