‘Shocking over-representation’ of ethnic minorities in the courts, prisons and police cells to be scrutinised by Government

12 May 2016

‘Shocking over-representation’ of ethnic minorities in the courts, prisons and police cells to be scrutinised by Government

The Ministry of Justice is holding a wide ranging review of the treatment of ethnic minorities in the UK’s police cells, courts and prisons and has told The Travellers Times that this important review will include Gypsies and Travellers.

In January 2016 the Prime Minister invited David Lammy MP to find out why official figures show that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups appear to be over-represented at most stages of the criminal justice system, and what can be done about it. The call for evidence will run from 21st March 2016, to 30th Jun 2016.

The Travellers’ Times contacted the Ministry of Justice to ask whether Gypsies and Travellers where to be included in the “welcomed” review.

105948782 (600px * 375px)

An MOJ spokesperson told us:

“I can confirm that we are going to investigate whether there is evidence of widespread disproportionate treatment and outcomes for different minorities within the CJS and this will include Gypsies and Travellers.”  

“We will rely on stakeholders providing evidence and data of this through forums such as the call for evidence.  Due to this being a review and not an enquiry, however, we will not investigate individual cases.”

The Lammy review will look at the way the Criminal Justice System deals with young people and adults from BAME backgrounds. It will address issues arising from the Crown Prosecution Service onwards, including the court system, prisons and young offender institutions and rehabilitation in the community. The findings should be published in spring 2017.

The Irish Chaplaincy in Britain, the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller Police Association and the Traveller Movement have told The Travellers’ Times that they will be responding and submitting evidence.

The Traveller Movement are inviting Gypsies and Travellers who feel that they have been unfairly treated in the Criminal Justice System to get in touch with their new Equalities and Social Justice Unit.

Yvonne MacNamara, CEO of the Traveller Movement said:

“There are too many Gypsies and Travellers in the Criminal Justice System. There are a number of complex reasons for this, but the system itself sorely needs examining for the often biased, discriminatory and unfair treatment of Gypsy and Travellers, whether they are victims of crime, suspects, witnesses, offenders or prisoners.”

“We are concerned that the system itself is institutionally racist and that Gypsies and Travellers will routinely receive discriminatory treatment because of the system itself. The evidence of disproportionate and discriminatory treatment of, and attitudes towards, Gypsies and Travellers that we believe is endemic within the Criminal Justice System, cannot be just put down to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ in an otherwise fair and equal system.”

“We must scrutinise and investigate the system itself.”

“We welcome the review and urge Gypsies and Travellers to take part.”

The Irish Chaplaincy in Britain (ICB), who also welcomed the review, works with Gypsy and Traveller prisoners. The ICB Traveller Equality Project works to improve the situation of Travellers in the justice system in England and Wales. Gypsies and Travellers make up around 5% of the prison population (approximately 4,500 men and women) in England and Wales.

The shocking over-representation of Gypsies and Travellers in prison has been raised before by the government.

In 2008, the National Offender Management Service's Race Review noted that:

“particular concerns relating to Gypsy Traveller Roma prisoners included: difficulties accessing services, including offender behaviour programmes, as the literacy level required was too high… and lack of cultural awareness and understanding of staff.”

 In 2010, The ICB launched the ‘Voices Unheard’ research project to look at the experiences of Travellers in prison. Key findings from the research, published in June 2011, were that:

   • A lack of monitoring had led to a failure to formulate or implement measures to ensure equality of opportunity for this prisoner group.

  • 59.3 % of Traveller prisoners were identified as requiring basic educational intervention.

• Travellers in prison were commonly subjected to racist treatment from other prisoners and from some staff.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 14.35.39 (600px * 443px)

(‘Voices Unheard’ © Irish Chaplaincy in Britain)

A copy of the brilliant and important ‘Voices Unheard’ report can be seen by clicking in this link: http://www.irishchaplaincy.org.uk/Publisher/File.aspx?ID=81554

The ICB said: “Since 2011, the National Offender Management Service has made concerted efforts to engage more with the Travellers in prison. Many prisons now hold Traveller Groups, appoint Traveller Reps and hold Traveller History Month events in an effort to promote inclusion. However there is still much work to be done to improve Travellers' access to crucial rehabilitation services.”

The Gypsy, Roma, Traveller Police Association – an organisation for serving GRT police officers and staff – will also be submitting evidence about how police services treat Gypsies and Travellers.

Jim Davies, a Romany Gypsy police officer for Thames Valley Police and the GRTPA Secretary, said that the first contact with the Criminal Justice System often comes through the police services and that the GRTPA will be concentrating their submission on the practices and attitudes of police services towards Gypsies and Travellers as a conduit into the system. He said he welcomed the fact that the review will be looking for potential bias in the system itself for solutions to combat the “shocking overrepresentation of Gypsies and Travellers in courts, prisons and police cells.”

“Much of the evidence of discriminatory treatment by the police, leading to disproportionate representation in the Criminal Justice System is anecdotal, if overwhelming,” he said. “We welcome the fact that the National Offender Management Service monitors the treatment of Gypsy and Traveller prisoners and we call on police services to do the same.

“Police forces still do not monitor their dealings with Gypsies and Travellers in their ethnic monitoring systems. All police services monitor the treatment of other ethnic minorities – but too many do not monitor their engagement with Gypsies and Travellers. This means that much discriminatory treatment by the police remains hidden from public accountability. We believe that the police services must share some of the scrutiny. We hope David Lammy will recognise this and do something about it.” 

The Ministry of Justice has said that the review will be evidence-based. It will draw on the significant work already published in this area; it will produce new statistical analysis to shed light on the issue; and it will provide an opportunity for people to convey their personal experiences and insights.

David Lammy MP wants to hear from a diverse range of voices:

• victims and witnesses

• ex-offenders

• those working in the CJS

• academics and NGOs

• different BAME communities and

• different parts of both England and Wales.

The review welcomes evidence from individuals as well as organisations. One simple way to take part is through an online MOJ survey and the link to it is here:


Another way to take part is to contact a local or national Gypsy, Roma, Traveller organisation and ask for help responding to the review.

Over the next year until the review is published, The Travellers’ Times will be investigating the treatment of Gypsies and Travellers in the Criminal Justice System and by police services with a series of stories in which we talk to organisations such as the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain and the GRTPA, Gypsy and Traveller prisoners, offenders and victims of crime, police services and special police units, Trading Standards, prison governors and probation services.

Please contact us on travellerstimes@ruralmedia.co.uk, or through our Facebook Page messages at https://www.facebook.com/travellers.times/  if you feel you have something important to say or you believe that your experience should be heard about.