‘Racial bias’ in British criminal justice system exposed by MP’s report

People from minority ethnic backgrounds still “face bias, including overt discrimination” in the UK criminal justice system, according to a highly critical report produced by Labour MP David Lammy at the request of the prime minister.

Lammy’s report factually reinforces what people from BAME backgrounds have been saying about the criminal justice system for decades, with statistics showing that discrimination and disproportionality are in some cases worse in the United Kingdom than in the notoriously racist US justice system. As The Guardian reports, black people make up 3% of the overall UK population, but 12% of the prison population; compared to 13% of the US population and 35% of US prisoners, respectively. Black people are nine times more likely to be imprisoned in England and Wales than their white peers.

While the report finds overt racial prejudice within the UK justice system, it observes that it is at least declining. However, covert, unconscious and implicit bias have become huge problems – for example, Lammy points out that the term ‘gang’ “can be used to signal ethnicity rather than to describe the links between a group of suspects.”

To reverse the problem of bias, Lammy said that younger defendants’ immaturity should be taken into account in sentencing and that criminal records should be sealed to help former offenders find work, rather than become caught in a vicious cycle. He also said that a culture of mistrust between BAME defendants and the police is contributing to the problem: “They see the system in terms of ‘them and us’. Many do not trust the promises made to them by their own solicitors, let alone officers in a police station warning them to admit guilt. What begins as a ‘no comment’ interview can quickly become a crown court trial.”

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