The UK is not a just society for many people living in it. If we look at our justice system, it penalises certain sections of our community who are from a minority group or are socially and economically dis-advantaged. The recent Lammy Review on the Criminal Justice System shows in particular how badly those from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community are impacted. The shocking figures show that Muslims account for 15% of the British Prisons, even though they only account for 5% of the population as a whole. This is a 50% increase of that population in 10 years. The reason for this increase? The review has no answer to this question. It is tempting to think it must be terrorist related but the figures show that only 175 people were imprisoned for this reason over this period, so that cannot be the narrative of this particular story.
The other factor that impacts on your chances of being imprisoned are issues of social deprivation. If we look at the Muslim population, 46 per cent of them live in the 10% most deprived local authority districts in Britain today. Poverty impacts access to resources, school attainment, employment chances and increases the likelihood of involvement in crime. The poverty issue, combined with the fact that many Muslims are often ethnic minorities, highlights the reason there is such a problem. Manzoor-Khan writing for the Independent states, “If you keep a population poor, deny them opportunities to educationally or financially exit that poverty, ignore structural inequality, racially profile them and tell the rest of the population to be suspicious of them, then there’s your answer – there’s no excuse for “simply not knowing” why Muslims are overrepresented in prison”.
The issue of justice within our criminal justice system is perverse, when you can get a bigger sentence for drug use than rape and manslaughter. Prison in many ways is about controlling a certain population. The clearest illustration of this comes from Richard Nixon’s advisor on the reasons for a War on Drugs – “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
And that War on Drugs continues in the UK system. This is shown by whom the law and the judicial penalise, and those who are rarely searched, charged or prosecuted, namely the wealthy.
If we look at the issue of cocaine, Release (Drugs, Law and Human Rights charity) figures show, “When it came to being charged for cocaine in London in 2009/10, the picture was even bleaker for black people caught in possession – 22 per cent of this group received a caution, while the remaining 78 per cent were charged. This stands in stark contrast to the white population of whom only 44 per cent were charged. 23 per cent of Asian people were caught possessing cocaine, 64 per cent were charged with an offence. It would be interesting to get a further break down of that white community, how many of them came from socially economically dis-advantaged families.
Release reports that “Black people were sentenced for all drug offences at 4 times the rate of white people. Black people were 5 times more likely than white people to receive an immediate custodial sentence for a drug offence. The rates of disparity significantly reduced when considering all indictable offences, indicating that drug offences were driving this disproportionality. “
In a review of the data Alex Stevens of Kent University shared the following slide on his twitter account:
In the New Statesman, using information from Release including an analysis of Ministry of Justice data, they showed that contrary to media portrayals black people use illegal drugs less than white people. Despite this pattern, black people were six times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched for drugs, and more likely to be charged, rather than cautioned, for possession of drugs.
The article in the New Statesman notes the “burning injustices” do not stop there. Lammy’s report looks forensically at the extent of racial discrimination and racial disparity at each stage of the criminal justice system. The report found BME prisoners were less likely to receive support while incarcerated, and BME men were more likely to be allocated to high security prisons – which Lammy has aptly described as a “second sentence”. The odds of receiving a prison sentence was 240 per cent higher for BME offenders than their white counterparts. These figures will be ground breaking not only because of the magnitude of racial disparities between BME and white groups within the criminal justice system, but also because these statistics have not been widely shared with the public.
What Lammy’s review shows is that not only are BME people unfairly treated by the criminal justice system, but this systemic racism and inequality is compounded at every stage of the criminal justice system. Through conscious and unconscious racism and discrimination, the entire criminal justice system contributes to criminalising and stigmatising BME people. By the time they exit the supposedly “fair and just” British criminal justice system, they are the least likely to have successful outcomes in any aspects of their lives.
The Guardian puts it in the starkest terms – “For every 100 white men convicted of public order offences, there were 494 BAME convictions.”
Number of BAME men placed in high-security prison, for every 100 white men convicted of the same type of offence, 2015 https://www.theguardian.com/law/2017/sep/08/racial-bias-uk-criminal-justice-david-lammy
The City which is comprised primarily of white bankers however continues in its culture of hoovering up Cocaine with very few consequences for those doing so. This is shown in a recent article in the Observer, which shows how firms ignore the drug use of its employees, and it would seem the authorities do to. This inevitably creates the sense that there is one law for the rich, another for mainstream society and then another for those from poorer communities and in particular BAME Groups. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/sep/09/city-firms-failing-to-tackle-cocaine-crisis
The local news continues to show arrests for drug offences continuing and once more targeting the poorer communities. So while the National Paper talks about rich drug users enjoying their drugs, in Newport the raids on poorer people continue. http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/15389867.Nine_people_arrested_after_police_launch_drug_raids_in_Newport/?ref=mrb&lp=3
Meanwhile in Cardiff in the same month a BAME man’s house is raided. http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/drug-dealer-found-cocaine-police-13398118
The Criminal Justice system illustrates how unfair society is for our most vulnerable people. The war on drugs is symptomatic of a system that does not work for many of its citizens. In effect we are not really imprisoning people for their drug use, we are imprisoning them for not being part of the society the powerful believe in. The Criminal Justice system has also become a holding house for vulnerable people that society finds easier to criminalise, rather than treat. So when we look at drugs, the debate is whether drugs is a criminal justice issue or should people be treated by health. There continues to be a failure to see drug use as a response to the problems people have faced in their personal histories, or their current circumstances.
In the late 1980s we saw the implementation of Community Care. This involved moving people out of institutions, such as long term mental health hospitals, to be cared for in the community. The problem of the policy was that it was focussed on making a person independent rather than creating inter- dependent communities. The services were also never properly funded and the failure of the system in my view correlates to the increase of the prison population from 1993. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/541667/prison-population-story-1993-2016.pdf In reality the prisons have become the new asylums, for people who do not conform to a white males sense of what should be.