Most women in prison are “there because of a man”, campaigning MP David Lammy has said.
Justice chiefs are “not responding sufficiently” to the exploitation of women and how it contributes to female offending, the former Labour minister added.
Lammy, who was commissioned by ex-prime minister David Cameron to explore how the justice system treats black and minority ethnic (BAME) offenders, made the claim in evidence to the Commons’ justice select committee.
He also said prisons were showing signs of “institutional racism” and that youth violence had got “considerably worse” since his September 2017 report.
But the Tottenham MP said the way in which BAME women offenders, and female offenders more generally, are dealt with should be urgently reviewed.
Referring to how young offenders had often been exploited by older criminals in drugs gangs, he said: “I raise that because I happen to believe the vast majority of women that I met in the criminal justice system are there because of a man and are there because of exploitation and the system is not responding sufficiently to the role of that man that has brought them to court, so there is a lot to do in that area.”
Lammy said Muslim women were a “specific cohort I found to be very vulnerable and experiencing a lot of discrimination” during the review.
“The stigma attached to being a Muslim women in the criminal justice system, the way in which families sometimes cut off these women in the prison system – that was an area that needs a lot more exploration,” he said.
Lammy’s 2017 review called on Theresa May to make Britain’s judiciary more ethnically diverse by 2025 to repair “chronic distrust” in the criminal justice system – a target he told the committee the government would miss.
The report also recommended British judges copy the US and “seal” some criminal records so ex-offenders have the chance to start afresh.
It also called for a ‘deferred prosecution’ model that would see low-level offenders offered a targeted rehabilitation programme before entering a plea, with a view to dropping all charges if they complete its steps.
Opening the committee evidence session, which was to examine what had changed since 2017, Lammy said “things have got worse” and that 51% of the youth prison population was from a BAME background was “something that should concern us all”.
“It is also the fact that violent crime has risen,” he said. “We have got 132 homicides in London, the highest in 10 years, and overall the level of violent crime is the worst since the war.”
He stressed that his report found diversity and unconscious bias training within the criminal justice system were not commonplace and singled out the prison service for censure.
“There were just too many prisons where it was clear to me that there is institutional racism and very, very poor practice,” the MP said.
Appointing more senior governors from a BAME background was key to improving this, he added.
“Just like we are seeing in our secondary schools, strong black headteachers, need to see strong black governing governors.”
Lammy was asked if he believed prisons were treating the safety of BAME inmates differently.
The MP recounted how one prison psychiatrist “suggested white offenders had higher preponderance towards self-harm” and that they told Lammy “some communities internalise trauma and some communities externalise trauma”.
He went on: “I was speaking to a young black offender about this and he said to me ‘but Mr Lammy, it’s interesting, when Joey who’s white attempt to cut his wrists he gets therapy and support to stop him doing that, when I punch the wall I get put in solitary, why is that not self-harm’.
“I think this is a whole big area that is beyond my area of expertise, certainly, but it is an indication on how one is dealing with stereotype, with culture, with traumatised young people, however they behave and however they manifest.
“And I think particularly in the context of gangs coming into the youth custodial estate, how violent young people are being managed is a real issue.”