There are high hopes that the Crime and Disorder Act will go a
long way towards tackling racism within the youth justice system.
Youth offending teams are a vital link in this strategy, writes
In the wake of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry there are hopes that
the new Crime and Disorder Act 1998, and particularly the focus on
multi-agency partnerships, can create more effective anti-racist
Social services input will be crucial in helping to ensure that
racism among young offenders is tackled and that there is fair
treatment of ethnic minorities by the youth justice system.
A key area is likely to be the multi-agency youth offending
teams, in which representatives from social services, police,
education and other sectors will work together to implement crime
Specific measures in the Act that could help tackle racism in
the community include consultation with local ethnic minority
groups when crime reduction strategies are drawn up, improved
ethnic monitoring, a new focus on mediation between victim and
offender and giving the courts new sentencing powers for racially
Anne Dunn, of the offender rehabilitation agency Nacro’s race
unit, says the Act also has the potential to reduce discrimination
against ethnic minority offenders in the youth justice system and
restore confidence among black and Asian communities.
But Darren Johnson, acting chairperson of the Association of
Black Senior Managers, is more sceptical about the Act’s potential.
He believes the changes merely tinker with the system and argues
for a complete redesign of youth justice to tackle
“The existing system and procedures will remain intact and it is
those that have contributed to the over-representation of black
people in the criminal justice system and an under-representation
among judges and magistrates,” he says.
Nevertheless, there are opportunities under the new legislation
to level the playing field for young black offenders, Johnson
believes. The Macpherson report highlighted the importance of a
multi-agency approach to tackling racism and specifically flagged
up the importance of the new Act and the role of youth offending
teams, which will be set up nationally from April of next year.
Sir William Macpherson stressed the need for more co-operation
between the various disciplines, “both in directly combating racism
and in the vital arrangements which must be made for the
collection, recording and exchange of information between
One concern highlighted in the report was the harm caused by the
withdrawal of funding for community initiatives, such as youth
projects. But the Act could provide an opportunity for agencies to
agree priorities and adequate funding for local initiatives, the
In the London Borough of Lambeth, one area hailed by the inquiry
report as a good example of multi-agency working, there have
already been significant links between the local youth justice
system and the voluntary sector.
Lambeth’s youth offending team manager Lambert Allman says these
links will be strengthened and extended when the team is up and
running in April next year. The youth justice system works with
community projects in predominantly black areas like Brixton and
has had a mentoring project running for 18 months, where volunteer
mentors, mainly from the black community, are put in touch with
Other partnership schemes under discussion include one on
developing parenting skills and another focusing on the self-image
of young African-Caribbean men, says Allman.
In terms of reducing racist offences the first step in many
areas will be the crime audit. A multi-agency group under the chief
executive of the local authority will assess what particular
problems the area faces and how they can be tackled.
In some areas special youth or black issues forums have been
established to encourage participation in the audit by ethnic
If racist attacks or harassment are found to be an issue in a
particular area the idea is that co-operation between the various
partners will provide a more effective response than the
traditional fragmented approach.
Increased sharing of information between, for example, the
police and local authority, will be important. For this to work it
is clear that the police must take the youth offending teams
seriously and not simply nominate officers close to retirement age
who lack clout in the local division.
The pressure on the police following the Lawrence inquiry,
however, is likely to ensure they take their role on youth
offending teams seriously, particularly regarding racial issues.
Other important elements in the legislation, when it comes to
tackling racism, are likely to be the emphasis on ethnic monitoring
and the newly created racially aggravated offences.
While section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 set out
statutory obligations for those involved in the justice system to
carry out ethnic monitoring, it has not been embraced
wholeheartedly. “It was the first piece of legislation to try and
make sure agencies were not being discriminatory, but was
sidetracked a bit,” says Nacro’s youth service head Chris Stanley,
who adds that under the new Act monitoring has risen up the
Monitoring refers not only to the victims and perpetrators of
offences but also to the make-up of youth offending teams, says
Charlie Beaumont, a policy adviser to the new Youth Justice Board,
which is overseeing implementation of the Act. “We have a strong
commitment to monitoring the composition of the teams as well as
what is happening to young black offenders in the system,” he
Information from monitoring should give youth offending teams a
clearer idea of race issues underlying crime and help ensure that
police are not ignoring or unaware of potentially racially
motivated offences. It will also allow the teams to pinpoint areas
where young offenders from ethnic minorities appear to be treated
less favourably than white offenders.
The new category of racially aggravated offences is an extra
tool in combating racism, allowing the courts to impose longer
sentences for offences that are racially motivated, although some
question how effective this penal approach can be in the long
“It’s to be welcomed and may be a deterrent, but the problem is
that so many of these offences never get to court,” says
Another factor that should help the youth offending teams to
identify and tackle racially motivated offences is the new
legislation’s encouragement of contact between offenders and
victims through reparation schemes. “These could offer the chance
to break down barriers between white offenders and victims from
ethnic minorities or vice versa,” Stanley says.
“Because we will be having more contact with victims there is
more opportunity to identify something that, on the face of it, is
just criminal damage, but turns out to be a racist crime,” says
Malcolm Potter, youth offending team manager in Sheffield.
He adds that one of the problems in the past has been that the
youth justice system has not had much contact with victims and that
disclosure of information on crimes by the police has been
Johnson is not convinced that social services will play an
effective role in combating racism under the Act. “The Social
Services Inspectorate has produced nothing on the problem, so I’m
concerned that social services staff may in fact be less aware of
the issue than other agencies,” he says.
Others disagree, including Dunn, who says: “Social services will
have a crucial role in implementing the legislation as they
generally have a good record on equal opportunities and
Given that many chief executives have delegated responsibility
for the new youth offending teams to directors or assistant
directors of social services, it could be argued that social
services departments will often be the most important agency
involved at senior levels. But they will be as equally important on
the ground, where social services’ role in ensuring
non-discriminatory implementation of new measures, such as
parenting orders, will be important.
Dunn says the content of parenting courses, for example, will
need to be carefully formulated. “Whose values will be reinforced,
and will account be taken of diversity and different cultures?” she
Social services input will also be required in making sure black
and Asian young offenders are fairly treated, by helping ensure
that they have equal access to diversion programmes attached to
final warnings. Under the existing system there is evidence that
young black offenders are less likely to be cautioned and more
likely to be prosecuted than white offenders.
The new measures in the Act and the emphasis on a partnership
approach are not going to solve problems of racism overnight,
whether in the community or the youth justice system. In fact, some
of the more punitive elements in the legislation could end up
making things worse if they are perceived as being imposed
disproportionately on one ethnic community. But the measures
designed to divert young offenders from custodial sentences, and
the emphasis on consultation with the local community and mediation
between victims of crime and offenders could help tackle some of
the existing problems.
And if new policies are put into practice with proper training,
in partnership with black and Asian voluntary groups and backed up
by effective ethnic monitoring, there is a strong possibility that
real progress could be made. CC