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An open letter to the PM: Coalition warns new sentencing bill will deepen inequality in the CJS

London, 15 March 2021: A coalition of criminal justice and race equality organisations has written to the Prime Minister warning that the government’s plans for policing and sentencing will further entrench racial inequality in the criminal justice system.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill entered parliament last week, and will be debated by ministers on Monday 15 and Tuesday 16 March. It contains a number of proposals which the government has conceded will have a disproportionate impact on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in equality assessments.

The government justifies this inequality as ‘a proportionate means of achieving the legitimate aim of protecting the public.’ Yet in another official document, the government admits there is ‘limited evidence that the combined set of measures will deter offenders long term or reduce overall crime.’

The coalition calls for the government to withdraw the elements of the Bill it concedes will increase racial inequality and launch a proper public consultation, making the necessary changes to avoid discrimination.

Shadae Cazeau, Head of Policy at EQUAL, said:

“We predict that the changes introduced by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will lead to a further increase in racial disparities across the criminal justice system and deeper feelings of mistrust from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. The government must engage with the communities who will be disproportionality impacted by the proposals to really understand the implications of the Bill. We call on the government to withdraw and consult on the Bill as a matter of urgency.”

Nina Champion, Director of the Criminal Justice Alliance, said:

“These unnecessary and discriminatory changes to sentencing and police powers will deepen existing racial inequalities, sweeping more Black, Asian and minority ethnic people into the criminal justice system for increasing periods of their lives. They will also miss out on the more positive proposals in the Bill. Initiatives to divert people from the criminal justice system into community rehabilitation will depend on a guilty plea, and we know Black, Asian and minority people are less likely to plead guilty due to distrust in the system.

"Rather than reducing racial inequality, as the government has committed to do, this Bill does the complete opposite.”

Pippa Goodfellow, Director of the Alliance for Youth Justice, said:

“This Bill supposedly sets out a radical new approach to sentencing. But in reality, it represents a raft of missed opportunities for necessary and meaningful reform, failing to address burning injustices in the youth justice system. The government claims that addressing racial disparity is a priority, but the proposed measures come with an explicit acknowledgement that they will exacerbate existing inequalities.’

Jess Mullen, Director of Influence and Communications at Clinks said:

“This Bill was not preceded by the conventional consultation undertaken prior to presenting a bill to parliament on a matter of this importance. 

“The expertise that resides in the voluntary sector, as a result of 150 years’ experience working in criminal justice, and in particular the knowledge and views of organisations that are led by and specialise in working with Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, has not been drawn upon to inform these proposals and ensure that they are able to improve— rather than worsen — outcomes for Black, Asian and minority ethnic people.”

Jess Southgate, Interim CEO of Agenda, said:

"Black and minoritised women are a minority within a minority in the criminal justice system, facing poorer outcomes and particular disadvantages compared to their white counterparts. The proposals in this Bill raises serious concerns on how many more Black and minoritised women will be swept into the criminal justice system, instead of receiving the support they need. The government has the opportunity to make the system fairer for Black and minoritised women if it takes the time to properly consult with specialist services and review the existing evidence about what works."

The policing and sentencing proposals which will impact a disproportionate number of BAME people include:

  • Moving the release point from halfway to two-thirds for custodial sentences of 4-7 years.
  • Moving the release point for children sentenced to 7 years or more from halfway to two-thirds.
  • Increasing the minimum term for life sentences for children.
  • Introducing a requirement for judges to give minimum custodial sentences for certain repeat offences.
  • Introducing discretionary powers which would allow the Secretary of State for Justice to prevent the automatic release of people deemed dangerous. 
  • Plans for positive schemes such as Out of Court Disposals and Problem-Solving Courts to rely on a guilty plea. As noted in the Lammy Review, BAME people are less likely to plead guilty due to a lack of trust in the system.
  • Serious Violence Reduction Orders, which will allow police to stop and search people without suspicion if they have previously been convicted for carrying a knife.

Notes for editors:

The organisations who coordinated the open letter are: Agenda, Barrow Cadbury Trust, the Criminal Justice Alliance, EQUAL, Clinks, Leaders Unlocked, the Prison Reform Trust, Race on the Agenda, the Alliance for Youth Justice and the Zahid Mubarek Trust.

There is already significant racial inequality in the criminal justice. For example:

  • In England and Wales, over one quarter (27%) of people in prison are from a minority ethnic group despite making up 14% of the total population. (Ministry of Justice, 2020)
  • If our prison population reflected the ethnic make-up of England and Wales, we would have over 9,000 fewer people in prison — the equivalent of 12 average-sized prisons. (Prison Reform Trust, 2021)
  • Black people are 53%, Asian 55%, and other ethnic minority groups 81% more likely than White people to be sent to prison for offences that can be tried only at the Crown Court, even when factoring in higher not-guilty plea rates. (Ministry of Justice, 2016)
  • Black men are 26% more likely than White men to be remanded in custody, and due to a lack of trust in the system, they are also nearly 60% more likely to plead not guilty, meaning if found guilty they can face a harsher sentence. (Ministry of Justice, 2016)
  • Black women are 29% more likely than White women to be remanded in custody at Crown Court and following conviction they are 25% more likely to receive a custodial sentence. (Ministry of Justice, 2016)

Press contact:

Jamie Morrell, Criminal Justice Alliance

Mobile number: 07902 114 967