What’s race got to do with it?

Chris Wright, Chief Executive at Catch22 discusses the importance of the Lammy Review of racial bias in the criminal justice system and Catch22's latest report on the issue.

24 April 2017

The Lammy Review launched in January 2016, as a welcome focus on this important issue. Endorsed by the Prime Minister with cross-party support and launched with an extensive call for evidence, there was no question as to whether Catch22 should contribute. Rather the question we asked ourselves was what we could add to this review that would do justice (pardon the expression) to our service users.

As a nationwide delivery organisation, our contribution focuses on ensuring that the voices of those with current and lived experience of the justice system are included in the review. Catch22 works throughout the criminal justice system, and has done for 200 years. We’re there when young people first get into trouble, and support them in youth justice settings. We run offender management, resettlement and rehabilitation in 20 prisons and the community, all over the country. This trusted relationship means that we experience first hand the disproportionality of black and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the system.

Many BAME prisoners we work with feel voiceless about issues that profoundly affect their lives -they are the nameless, faceless people behind the annual crime statistics. While policy makers, experts and academics can easily quote crime statistics and reoffending rates, less attention is given to the experiences and views of those on the receiving end of justice. This deprives us all of the valuable, first-hand insight and depth of experience that could enable better policy-making and lead to a fairer, more effective justice system.

To rebuild trust, people must believe that justice is fair and equally applied to all. For that to happen people trapped in the system must be able to understand the system – the rules that govern it, how these are applied. Providing clarity and accountability for decisions will send us well on our way. To do this we need better trained, more empathetic staff – staff from a range of backgrounds and experiences, staff who are more representative of the people they work with.

In our view, it’s really all about the people. Good relationships are what stand out as making a difference. Staff who take the time to understand an individual’s circumstances and motivations, and actively care about them. Proper relationships built around trust and understanding are what make a difference in people’s lives. If we apply this across the system, I think we’ll see real improvement both in how prisoners feel about equality and fairness, and about the effectiveness of the system as a whole.

You only have to walk down a prison landing to see the overrepresentation of BAME individuals. Now is the time to get to grips with why this happening, the impact it’s having and crucially, what can be done to eradicate it altogether. This review provided a good opportunity to put right some longstanding wrongs – so that we can work towards a future where we have a justice system that is fair; one that people trust, one that we can be proud of.

Chris Wright, Chief Executive, Catch22

Access the full report and executive summary here