Government branded ‘shameful’ over treatment of GTR children in custody

1 February 2017

The government’s treatment of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children in custody has been branded “shameful” in a debate by politicians today in the Houses of Parliament.

The Westminster Hall Parliamentary debate on “Outcomes for Gypsies and Travellers in the youth justice system”, was organised by Kate Green, the Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston, following research published by the Traveller Movement. The research found that Gypsy, Traveller and Roma (GTR) children remain overrepresented in the youth justice system and continue to have worse outcomes and experiences of custody.

Kate Green opened the debate by highlighting that Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in custody are often ignored and overlooked by “both service providers and policy makers” and also pointed to the disadvantages these children face before entering custody.

Kate Green also noted that significant numbers of these children in custody had been in local authority care and excluded from school and that these children had little opportunity for rehabilitation.

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(Kate Green speaks out on Gypsy and Traveller children in custody)

“While their routes into custody offer a depressing reflection of the disadvantage that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children experience in wider society, what is even more depressing is that these failures continue while Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children are in custody,” said Kate Green.

The crux of the issue, Kate Green said, was that the youth justice system still does not record the number of GTR children and therefore face no scrutiny in addressing poorer outcomes. She explained that the poorer outcomes experienced by GTR children has been a problem for a long-time, and used data from the Irish Chaplaincy’s research ‘Voices Unheard’ which found in 2011 that  a significant proportion of GTR prisoners suffered mental health issues.

Responding to Kate Green, David Lammy MP, who is leading an independent review of the treatment of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic adults in the Criminal Justice System, encouraged the government to build on Gypsy, Roma and Travellers children’s appetite for education that was revealed in the Traveller Movement research.

Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith, supported his Labour colleague’s calls for the change in youth justice saying that “it is shameful that the Government do no collect data of GTR children in custody”.

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                                                               (Kate Green MP)

As The Travellers’ Times reported earlier this month, the research by the Traveller Movement uncovered very high rates of victimisation and bullying of the GTR children. Without proper ethnic monitoring in the institutions and facilities, it’s difficult for these issues to be adequately addressed.

Addressing Philip Lee, the Government Minister for Youth Justice who was also at the debate, Kate Green  said that the government needed to move on from “warm words” and demanded that he “took action” to capture and monitor the data needed to address the needs of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children in the youth justice system.

“I hope the minister will be able to tell us today the tangible steps the Government will take to do that,” she said.

However, the response by the Government Minister for Youth Justice was described as “deeply disappointing” by the Traveller Movement. Although he said the Government were “keen” to implement the change, he refused to commit to implement and would not provide a timescale for an impact assessment.

The Traveller Movement and the Irish Chaplaincy told The Travellers’ Times that they were not giving up on this “vital” issue.

“We will continue to campaign and keep the pressure on the Government to commit to implementing ethnic monitoring of GTR children in youth justice,” said a spokesperson for the Traveller Movement.

“The debate, despite the disappointing response from the Government minister, is a positive toward achieving that goal,” he said.

Access the Traveller Movement’s full research and data here: Overlooked and Overrepresented: Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in the youth justice system