Sharp rise in proportion of young BME prisoners

Tuesday, 30 June, 2015

The proportion of black and ethnic minority children and young people held in the youth justice system has increased sharply over the last decade, according to an analysis by The Guardian. The original data comes from the Youth Justice Board and includes young offender institutions, secure detention centres and secure training centres in England and Wales.

Between 2005/06 and 2014/15 the number of people in youth custody more than halved, from 2,832 to 1,048. The number of white children and young people in custody fell almost twice as fast as it did for black, Asian and minority ethnic children and young people. 

The proportion of the young white prisoners has fallen by around 20 per cent since 2005/06, whereas the proportion of young black prisoners has risen by 66 per cent, and for Asian people it's gone up by 75 per cent.

This means that one in fifteen young prisoners are now Asian, and one in five are black. 


According to the Young review published at the end of 2014, the over-representation of young black and Asian men in prison in the UK is now greater than in the US.

Stop and search is cited as an important factor contributing to this disproportionality. In 2013 the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that young black and Asian people were six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. The Times reported earlier this year that in the last ten years 600 children under ten years old have been stopped and searched.

Statistics from the Institute of Race Relations show that black and minority ethnic people are over-represented at every stage of the criminal justice system. They show that they are targeted more by the police, more likely to be imprisoned, and more likely to be in prison for longer than white people. 

When asked about this disproportionality by Christina Rees MP, Michael Gove, the new Justice Secretary, implied that it was down to a greater 'propensity to offend' among people from ethnic minorities, linked to 'circumstances of deprivation'. He went on to claim that 'far too many people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds grow up in homes where they do not have the stability, support and love that all of us think every young person should have'.

Penelope Gibbs, Director of Transform Justice, commenting on the figures in The Guardian, said:

'In the US they refer to disproportionate ethnic minority imprisonment as "the new Jim Crow". We have a different history but the result is as bad. Somewhere the system is going badly wrong.'

On 16 June we held a seminar where Dr John Moore presented his paper, 'Is the Empire coming home? Liberalism, exclusion and the punitiveness of the British State'. In it he argues that criminal justice racism and violence are nothing new, but simply a continuation of colonial violence. You can read his paper here.

We are running a project, 'Justice Matters for young black men: tackling the ethnic penalty', where we focus on the social context that forms the backdrop to the harmful and disproportionate punishment of young black men and other ethnic groups by the criminal justice system. Read more about it here.