This November, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) released its Offender Equalities Annual Report which provides statistics on the protected characteristics of people in prison and under probation supervision. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) concurrently published its biennial report, Women in the criminal justice system (CJS). Protected characteristics are those identified in the Equality Act (2010) as needing protection from discrimination, including (but not limited to) age, race, religion and sex.
The release of this data is timely for us. On the same day, we launched our latest State of the sector 2018 report which this year included a thematic focus on how voluntary organisations are identifying and meeting the needs of people with protected characteristics. The HMPPS data helps us build a bigger picture of the experience and needs of people in the CJS with protected characteristics.
The HMPPS report paints a concerning picture of prison and for those supervised in the community. It shows:
- Increasing levels of violence and assault, with a 9% increase in the number of victims between 2016 and 2017.
- A rising number of self-harm incidents. In the 12 months ending December 2017, there were 44,651 reported incidents of self-harm, an increase of 11.2% from 2016.
- A disturbing 17% increase this year in deaths in the community of people under probation supervision.
This blog focuses on the experiences - referred to in the HMPPS report - of young people, women and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities. A number of the issues it raises are longstanding for the CJS and show that more needs to be done to tackle disparities.
Children and young adults
Children aged 15-17 are more likely to experience violence in prison as victims, assailants and as what HMPPS term as ‘fighters’. Young adults aged 21 to 24 had some of the highest numbers of ‘fighters’. ‘Fighters’ is the term the prison service uses to refer to assault incidents where they have not been able to identify a clear aggressor or victim. Alongside this, self-harm incidents are most likely to be by prisoners aged 18-20. In 2017, these people had a rate of 945 incidents of self-harm per 1,000 prisoners.
Clinks is a member of the Transition to Adulthood Alliance which demonstrates that maturity continues to develop after a young person reaches 18, and will have an impact on their actions, impulsiveness, and risk-taking. For young people in the CJS, this is often compounded by having experienced multiple disadvantage and adversity in their earlier life.
The Transition to Adulthood Alliance’s work has demonstrated the positive impact of a distinct approach to young adults in contact with the CJS. We need tailored interventions that promote young adult’s strengths and support their emotional maturation if we are to address the mental health needs, risk of self-harm and high levels of violence young people in the CJS are so vulnerable to.
BAME people continue to be overrepresented in the prison population, making up 27% of all prisoners. The Prison Reform Trust’s latest Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile shows that if the prison population reflected the make-up of England and Wales, we would have over 9,000 fewer people in prison - the equivalent of 12 average-sized prisons.
Inside prison, BAME people also experience unequal outcomes. For example black and black British people and mixed ethnic groups are more likely to be on the basic (lowest) level of the Incentive and Earned Privilege (IEP) system which operates in prison (10% and 9% respectively) compared to non BAME prisoners (6%). These experiences not only impact the lived experience of imprisonment, restricting access to ‘privileges’ like visits, but as Clinks found in our consultations with prisoners for the Lammy Review, it also has the potential to foster an environment of distrust, deepening perceptions amongst BAME prisoners of staff racism and unfair treatment.
More than a year after the Lammy Review highlighted these disparities their persistence indicates the need for HMPPS and MoJ to continue to prioritise the needs of BAME people and ensure the recommendations from the Lammy Review are fully implemented.
The MoJ’s report on women shows that women continue to overwhelmingly receive very short sentences for often minor, non-violent offences. In 2017, 57% of women sentenced to prison were given three months or less, whilst the use of community sentences has halved in the last decade.
The continued and often unnecessary use of imprisonment for women is particularly concerning given the much higher levels of self-harm amongst the women’s prison population. Though thankfully we’ve seen a decrease this year in self-inflicted deaths of women in prison, the HMPPS data shows us that self-harm levels are disturbingly high and continue to increase, currently being at a rate of 300 per 1,000 female prisoners – more than twice that of male prisoners.
There is overwhelming evidence showing how ineffective, and even damaging, short sentences can be for women. Women’s centres have proven (through the Justice Data Lab for example) that they are more effective at meeting women’s needs and addressing the drivers of their offending.
The Female Offender Strategy recognises this and the concerning levels of self-harm for women in prison. It commits to more community-based solutions for women as well as safer custody for those in prison. Confronted with such tragic outcomes in prison, turning these aspirations into reality is as urgent now as it has ever been.
Clinks has strived to put the experiences and needs of those with protected characteristics on the agenda for government policy. Clinks will take forward the findings from the latest State of the sector 2018 research to help shape our priorities and direct our work for the coming year. We will use the information here to help us to continue to advocate for vulnerable groups, and the voluntary sector that supports them to enable them to offer the best possible services and opportunities.
Latest on Twitter
.@hibiscuscharity have launched a report - funded by Clinks - which explores the complex issues faced by Black, minoritised and migrant women in contact with the CJS and the resulting impacts on their mental health.
Read the report here: https://hibiscusinitiatives.org.uk/media/2023/06/rmc-mental-health-report-document.pdf