Black Young People Say They Don't Trust Youth Justice System

22 March 2006

The Children's Society is releasing research today that highlights the profound impact of racism on black young people across the youth justice system. It draws the conclusion that racism must be tackled as a safeguarding priority under the Every Child Matters reforms.

Just Justice, research commissioned by The Children's Society, conducted by the University of Central England, and funded by The Big Lottery reveals the experience of almost 200 boys and girls, aged 10 to 18 across England.

Black young people interviewed shared their personal accounts of racism that remain shocking in today's society. But young people's feedback also showed positive experiences with some professionals, especially among Youth Offending Teams.

The black young people interviewed reported:

-Experiences of explicit and institutional racism within the youth justice system

-A lack of trust in youth justice agencies

-A lack of trust in and little awareness of race relations staff, policies or use of complaints procedures in response to racist incidents

-Not enough black staff in all professions that work across the youth justice system

-Coping strategies of 'keeping quiet' and 'going nuts' in response to racist incidents.

Bob Reitemeier, The Children's Society's chief executive says: "Racism is a form of abuse that cannot be tolerated in today's society and this research presents a challenge to us all. The black young people interviewed exhibit deeply held negative feelings about the world around them.

"The coping strategies of 'keeping quiet' and 'going nuts' that the young people reported are evidence of our failure to protect them. Echoing The Children's Society's mission to listen to children, we must give these young people a voice if we are to find practical responses that make a real difference to their lives."

As a result of their experiences and perceptions, black young people say that they are reluctant to report crime committed against them, or their families, or share intelligence about criminal activity to the police. 'Keeping quiet' has the potential to damage the police's effectiveness to prevent offending and work with the community. 'Going nuts' can result in young people being excluded from school and getting in trouble with the law.

Testimonies from the research suggest that black young people interviewed lacked trust in official channels of complaint. They were either not aware of channels, had unsatisfactory experiences or feared repercussions from authority figures.

The over-representation of black young people is well-documented. Yet relatively little is known about how black young people experience the youth justice system, Just Justice has sought to fill this gap. Recent government reports of the youth justice system show that:

-One in 12 black young offenders are sentenced to custody compared to one in 40 white young offenders²

-Black people of all ages are six times more likely to be stopped and searched, and three times more likely to be arrested than white people³

-Black young people aged between 10 and 25 years old are no more or less likely to offend than white young people.4

Notes to Editors:

For the purposes of the Just Justice report the term 'black' has been used to include any person likely to experience racism in British society because of their non-white skin colour. As a result, the research includes all the main non-white minority ethnic groupings in Britain, in particular African-Caribbean and Asian.

Audit Commission (2004) Youth Justice 2004: A review of the reformed youth justice system. London: Audit Commission
Barclay G, Munley A & Munton T (2005) Race and the Criminal Justice System: An Overview to the Complete Statistics 2003-2004. London: Criminal Justice System Race Unit

Bowling B and Phillips C (2002) Racism, Crime and Justice. Harlow: Pearson Education.

For a copy of the research summary and interviews with spokespeople, please contact The Children's Society's media office on tel: 020 7841 4422.