THE BLOG

The Silent Cleansing Of Black Men From Society

27/06/2017 16:38 BST | Updated 27/06/2017 16:38 BST
fstop123 via Getty Images

Boris Johnson's 'car crash interview' on Radio 4 about the why the Prime Minister's flagship policies around burning injustices did not have more priority in the Queen's speech was a sorely missed opportunity to highlight the issue of disproportionality in prisons.

Disproportionality occurs in the context of ethnic minority representation in the criminal justice system in relation to their population sizes as a whole; thus, black people represent around 3% of the population in England and Wales, but represent 12% of the British national prison population.

But disproportionality in prisons is a crude manifestation and result of wider systemic discrimination against black people, and black men in particular, in British society. From the moment black boys start school the odds are against them.

Despite starting at the same level of achievement as other ethnic groups (including white) black boys start falling rapidly behind. By the time they finish secondary school, they are the least likely to achieve a grade C in Maths. They are the group most likely to be permanently excluded (three times more than the average pupil population), and of those who make it sollege or sixth form, the group least likely to achieve a good outcome. There are many black boys (and girls) that manage to beat the odds and go on to University, but even in higher education the penalties for black people are entrenched.

Outside of schools, the burning injustices for black boys and men (and women) are even starker. Black men are more likely to be arrested, charged and prosecuted than white men, and the inequality is more brutal because they are also more likely to be the victims of crime.

Reviews of robust sources of evidence across the whole criminal justice system reveal that black men are six times more likely to be stopped and searched by police compared to white people, three times more likely to be arrested than white men and four times more likely to be in prison.

For some offences the disparity is harsher: black men are 10.5 times more likely to be arrested for robbery and for every 100 white men who received custodial sentences for drug offences 141 black men received a custodial sentence. And despite a fall in youth custody, nearly two-fifths of under 18 year olds in Young Offender Institutions are from black and ethnic minority backgrounds - a figure that has almost doubled since the introduction of ethnicity in government statistics in 2001.

We are beginning to see a raft of government-backed reviews in this area - The Young Review in 2014 and more recently the Lammy Review (ongoing), but the reality remains that we have a much higher proportion of black boys and black men in prison than ever before.

Arguably the reasons behind the disproportionality in the criminal justice system are complex - ranging from a higher prevalence of crime risk factors within black communities (e.g. poverty, unemployment, underachievement, living in deprived areas, single families etc) to ethnic bias in decisions by the police, within magistrates and crown courts and within prisons, but the end result is still the same.

The state has essentially withdrawn black men from society; black men who would otherwise be working in a decent job and being a father, and black men who could be acting as role models to their children and other members of society.

Instead of addressing the pernicious and unconscious racism that exists in the system (schools, jobs, courts etc) against black people, and in particular, black boys and men, what the British state has done is create an entire generation of black boys and men who are not only treated as criminals from the moment they enter secondary schools, but ensured that their prospects have worsened as they progressed through the system.

The state has written off the chances of black men achieving life success to the best of their potential and the unfairness is deafening; the government has set up a Social Mobility Commission to address the lack of transition in schools, jobs and society for people from poor backgrounds, but has done little to nothing for black boys, even though a quarter of black people are from deprived backgrounds.

There is ample evidence that black people are unfairly treated and discriminated against in society.

From the Sus laws that have had a disproportionate impact on black men (in terms of racial profiling) to the social and legal practices of landlords and employers (hence the Race Relations Act, the Equality Act and the Public Sector Equality Duties). But what is worrying is that not only is the state (unconsciously and consciously) funnelling black boys and men into prison, but by sending them to prison, are ensuring that they become social outcasts, with little or few opportunities of gaining legitimate employment.

And more black men in prison means that the state has not only written off one generation of black men, but created an inter-generational cycle of black men destined to live behind bars.