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Lammy releases shocking facts about criminal justice system

ON A MISSION: MP David Lammy, who today unveils The Lammy Review, shining a light on injustices faced by BAME people in the criminal justice system

BREAKING NEW ground as author of the first review “of its kind”, MP David Lammy records his findings after "asking people at the Prison Service and our courts to open up their books and show me what the figures say” regarding the experiences of black and minority ethnic (BAME) defendents and criminals in The Lammy Review; released today.

Speaking with The Voice, the Tottenham Labourite shares details about his initial reluctance to oblige then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s request that he conduct the investigation and why he overcame those reservations. Lammy also details the review’s key themes and how his findings will be implemented, against a backdrop of inevitable scepticism around the endeavour, born out of a political culture filled with think tanks, consultations and roundtable discussions that seem to do little in changing realities on the ground.

“I wouldn’t have done it if I couldn’t take the community with me”, asserts the MP.

“I insisted that it would be evidence-based, so if you view the report it’s not just my rhetoric, it’s not just me saying what I think or anybody saying what they think…

“It’s the first of a kind, it’s not an enquiry. We’re used to Macpherson, Scarman…a judge who sits behind a panel who can call people and come to a judgement about whether they’re telling the truth or not. This is a review of the evidence and me getting the academics to tell me what they think and getting the community to obviously feed in as well.”

GET UP STAND UP: MP David Lammy queries Theresa May during Prime Minster's Questions

Frank about his acceptance of the possibility that the review could be perceived as impotent, Lammy added:

Voice readers know me very well, they know I’m a campaigning MP and I call it as it is and on the whole I disagree with most of what the Government is doing, so I was surprised to be asked to do this review and I wasn’t sure at the beginning that I was going to accept. I had to sit with the Government at the time and go through it and look into their eyes; and I took the judgement that it would be churlish of me to say no, because in the end we have to make progress.”

The Lammy Review makes recommendations that, if acted upon by the Government, would represent massive reform when it comes to transparency in sentencing, particularly in youth courts which are now “invisible” to the public and how prisoners are treated by guards. As well as these issues, the report extols the benefits of harnessing young people who are at a critical point in their decision-making to ensure that they do not re-offend; even going so far as to champion deferred prosecutions, whereby a young person would escape custody if they had successfully completed a rehabilitation programme. It also examines how rehabilitation and restorative justice are meted out in countries that are seeing lower rates of re-offending than Britain and emphasises the need to be “…looking harder at the adults that sit behind young people.”

VOCAL: MP David Lammy is speaking on behalf of hundreds of community groups across the country who have a vested interest in the fair treatment of BAME youth

The eighteen month process also raised questions about the lack of leadership provision in certain areas of the criminal justice system. Lammy asked, “Why is it that we’ve only got 6% of our prisons being run by black or ethnic minority people?,” whilst pointing out that doing so would amount to having a “very well-paid job” and highlighted the ingrained racial bias affecting prisoners as well as prison staff.

Individual prison guards, he said, were able to assert too much control over the lives of inmates and make unscrutinised and private decisions about whether or not someone would be allowed to seek day release employment, anger management therapy or have their learning difficulties detected by those who could help, for instance.

The Lammy Review includes an analysis of leadership in the courts too.

“We’ve got to improve the make-up of our judiciary in this country - it’s really worrying that there’s been so little progress. We’ve got big cities in Britain with ethnic minority populations - Birmingham, Leicester, Bradford…and there’s not one ethnic minority person sitting on the bench in the Crown Court, so I set a strong target that the Crown Court has to reflect the population by 2025 - it’s a critical issue.”

OUT WITH THE OLD: MP David Lammy speaking on criminal justice in 2015, when work on the review began

The important and potentially life-changing project seems to have naturally become Lammy’s ‘baby’, evident in the passionate banging of his fists on the table when speaking about why making the review tangible is so close to his heart.

“I have given-up a lot of time on this review.

“I didn’t want do that and take the black community ‘up the hill’ only to have the ball drop, because, y’know, many of your readers have seen this story before and they don’t want to see it again.

“When you look at the figures in our youth prison population, black and ethnic minorities are now sitting at 41% - that’s gone up in 10 years from 25% - what’s going on?! It’s almost got to the position where half of our youth prison population comes from black or ethnic minority backgrounds, so I think this is an urgent problem.

“We could close down 12 prisons if we didn’t have the overrepresentation of black and ethnic minority people in the criminal justice system.”

Staying true to his “campaigning” roots, Lammy shines a spotlight on aspects of youth criminality that he feels are largely ignored:


“We spend a lot of time focusing on knife crime, gang crime, street crime and we don't spend enough time talking about the adults who are exploiting these young people. It’s not young people who are trafficking cocaine across borders.”

The review, which is available to read in its entirety on a Government portal, also addresses factors that surround a young person before they end up in the dock:

“Why has the youth justice system given up on parenting? Why were there just 189 parenting orders last year?”

Lammy appears to have a genuine interest in protecting those who end-up caught in a system of which they have little power to avoid, much less navigate:

“‘Youth’ is an interesting word, we’ve really got to talk about children. There are children as young as 10 in prison.

“I think we need to have a system similar to the United States, certainly Massachusetts…where you can seal your criminal record. If you have been shoplifting at 19 or 20, why is your shoplifting showing up on a standard or an enhanced check, when you then apply, at 29, to be a football steward? If you have been caught-up in a fight in a pub, should that really be showing-up on your record?”

The 45 year-old also admitted:

“I’m not happy about joint enterprise, the Supreme Court is not happy about joint enterprise…it is an area that needs more scrutiny.”

Well aware that his work in making his recommendations become policy has only just begun, Lammy spoke of spending the next year visiting community organisations who will help to roll out awareness and what would keep him going, despite the associated challenges:

“I’m not doing this review so that it can it on a dusty shelf and nothing changes, because when nothing changes, that makes people cynical and bitter, me included.

“The system’s leadership needs to do a damn sight better.”

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