BBC News, June 15, 2007
Parts of the UK’s black community face a “serious crisis” with young people becoming involved in crime, MPs say.
The Commons home affairs committee said the number of black men in the criminal justice system was “unacceptable”.
It blamed social exclusion, absent fathers, lack of positive role models and real or perceived racial discrimination by the authorities.
Recommendations include mentoring schemes and “safe houses” for gang members wanting to escape crime.
Committee chairman John Denham said there was no evidence young black people committed more crime than other groups.
But they were more involved in certain types of crime, including robbery, drug and gun offences. They were also more likely to be the victims of violent crime.
This was a “serious crisis” for “sections of black communities and for some young people of a mixed ethnic background,” the committee’s report says.
The report said there was “evidence to support allegations of direct or indirect discrimination in policing and the youth justice system”.
But it added: “The perception as well as the reality of discrimination has an impact.
“Lack of confidence in the criminal justice system may mean some young black people take the law into their own hands or carry weapons in an attempt to distribute justice and ensure their own personal safety.”
‘Stop and search’
Black people make up 2.7% of the UK population aged 10 to 17, but represent 8.5% of those in that age group arrested in England and Wales, the report said.
It also said black people were more likely to be “stopped and searched” by police.
And it found that three in four young black men would soon be on the national DNA database.
It was therefore “an advantage to be a white criminal because you are less likely to be on the DNA database,” said Mr Denham, who called for a government investigation into the issue.
He said the committee did not want a strategy of “letting black people off crimes they have committed” but it did want to ensure “all communities” were treated fairly by the criminal justice, education and welfare systems.
Previous government efforts to tackle the issue of black people and crime had made no impact, said Mr Denham.
“We think there needs to be a closer attention on the way we can enable young people to escape from involvement in criminal groups and criminal activities.
“Safe houses were one of the ideas that we thought was worthy of study.
“Young people’s behaviour changes and there are many cases where young people who will have been involved in crime will wish to move out of it.”
The report calls for a national strategy to reduce the “over-representation” of young black people in the criminal justice system.
Social exclusion was the biggest factor in young black crime, said Mr Denham, but a “lack of father involvement and . . . other parenting issues” also needed to be tackled.
Lacking positive male role models, many young black men look to music and films that glamorise violent lifestyles, the committee said.
But it said that censoring “gangsta rap”, hip hop music and other forms of entertainment would be “undesirable and impractical”.
It called for a more responsible approach from broadcasters who it said should work with young people on putting out a more positive message.
The committee also suggested that “internal exclusion” for disruptive schools pupils be developed.
“Internal exclusion” involves allowing disruptive pupils to remain in school, but separated from other pupils during lessons and breaks.
It also praised mentoring schemes, which offered young black men positive role models.
Some witnesses told the committee the media was to blame for negative portrayals of young black people.
But Opinion Leader research commissioned by the MPs suggested most people rejected racial stereotypes.
Conservative home affairs spokesman James Brokenshire said: “Despite the prime minister’s promises, soaring crime rates show that Tony Blair has failed to be tough on crime.
“Evidence like this demonstrates equal failure on dealing with the causes of crime.”
The Commission for Racial Equality welcomed the report and backed its call for a national strategy to reduce the number of black people in the criminal justice system.
“It’s a crying shame that a whole generation of young black men is being criminalised, written off regardless of whether or not theyve ever been involved in crime.
“This is not only a crisis for the black community, its a crisis for the whole of society,” said a CRE spokesman.
[Editors Note: The completel report, “Young Black People and the Criminal Justice System,” can be read or downloaded here.]