Gypsy & Traveller campaigners celebrate Government ‘U-turn’ on youth justice

2 March 2017

Gypsy and Traveller campaigners are celebrating a Government U-turn this week after their campaign to introduce ethnic monitoring in the youth criminal justice system to help Gypsy and Traveller children in youth custody was given a boost by a Labour MP.

The Traveller Movement, the Irish Chaplaincy and Kate Green MP, have been working together to campaign in Parliament for better treatment for Gypsy and Traveller children in youth custody since November 2016.

The Government’s decision means that young Gypsies and Travellers, who have some of the very worst experiences of custody and greater care needs, will finally be included in the official ethnicity data collection used in the youth justice system.

“This victory means that Gypsy and Traveller children in youth custody will be able to be identified and receive more support and help with their well-being and rehabilitation than they currently do under the present system,” a Traveller Movement spokesperson told The Travellers’ Times. 

“Although no official data currently exists, research into youth justice almost always finds that Gypsy and Traveller children are overrepresented and have worse outcomes compared to other children,” they added.

The Traveller Movement analysed data from HM Inspectorate of Prisons ‘Children in Custody’ report, and found that GTR children also reported worse experiences in custody compared to other children; particularly in relation to safety, health, understanding procedures and being prepared for life after release.

The announcement came in a letter (dated 10 February) from Dr Philip Lee MP, Minister for Victims, Youth and Family Justice to Kate Green MP in response to a Westminster Hall Debate she called on outcomes for Gypsies and Travellers in the Youth Justice System.

Dr Lee said the Youth Justice Board now plans to “stipulate the future collection of ethnicity data based on the 18+1 ethnicity categories used in the 2011 Census (which includes ‘Gypsy or Irish Traveller’ as a separate category)”.

Dr Lee added that changes will “start to be implemented by October 2017” and hope it to be completely rolled out by “March 2018”.

Kate Green, Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston and Parliamentary champion on the issue said: “I am pleased that the Government has finally moved from warm words to action. For too long the needs of this deeply disadvantaged group of children in the youth justice system have been overlooked and ignored.”

“I hope we begin to see the institutions and facilities developing targeted strategies to improve outcomes for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma in custody, promoting courses that will allow them to lawfully participate in business that fits with GTR family life on release,” she added.

The announcement was met with delight by Dr Conn MacGabhann, author of Voices Unheard: Irish Travellers in Prison & Right Type of Education, who said the Government’s decision is the “best Traveller news in terms of Government policy in years” and a change that “will make a lot of lives better”.

Commenting on the policy change, Yvonne MacNamara, the Chief Executive of the Traveller Movement, said that they were absolutely delighted that the Government has finally agreed to implement this much needed change that will greatly improve the lives of many Gypsy and Traveller children.

“We are extremely grateful to Kate Green MP for all her hard work in driving through this change, without her support it is difficult to envisage such a positive response from the Government,” said Yvonne MacNamara.

She added that Kate Green was instrumental in helping the Traveller Movement and the Irish Chaplaincy to get a “U-turn” from the government.

“By working in partnership we have shown that voluntary organisations can make a real difference in influencing government policy,” she said.

Ellena Costello, Project Officer at the Irish Chaplaincy, said that they welcomed the Government’s decision to finally implement ethnic monitoring of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in custody.

“Correct and effective ethic monitoring will, without doubt, improve the outcomes for Gypsy and Traveller children in custody,” said Ellena Costello.

“We have seen the positive effects ethic monitoring has had in the adult penal system, by reducing the stigma of identifying as a member of the community right through to specific education initiatives aimed at Travellers and Gypsies,” she added.

“The up to date figures will encourage the youth justice board to form targeted rehabilitative initiatives, which will not only improve each individual child’s life but the lives of the community as a whole.”

Campaign timeline

The Government’s shift in policy came after an intensive coordinated campaign by the two organisations on the issue, which began in November 2016. The campaign has been reported on in depth by The Travellers’ Times.

November 2016: The campaign began with amendments tabled to the Policing & Crime Bill by Baroness Sally Brinton & Lord Richard Rosser.

December 2016: The Traveller Movement then published research, with Kate Green MP writing the foreword, which found that Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children had worse experiences & outcomes of custody compared to other children.

February 2017: This research then led to Kate Green calling a debate in Parliament to discuss the outcomes for Gypsies and Travellers in the Youth Justice System.

February 2017: The Government agree to mandate that the future collection of ethnicity data will be based on the 18+1 ethnicity categories used in 2011 Census (which includes ‘Gypsy or Irish Traveller’ as a separate category).