Debate on young offenders with ethnic minority backgrounds

    We asked:- What more could be done to prevent young
    people from ethnic minorities being caught up in the youth justice
    system?

    Here are some of the comments we received:-

    “I used to live in Birmingham for over thirty years, and I
    moved down to Devon when I got married a few months ago. I am
    Afro-Caribbean (black) and my skin colour has never been so
    noticeable to me since I moved to Devon.

    In Birmingham I worked in a secure unit for almost 10 years and
    then I worked as a probation officer with the Drug Treatment and
    Testing Orders for nearly two years. I spent a lot of ‘time’ in
    prison, either in security with young offenders or in Winson
    Green.

    Reading your article, its amazing how things do not change. I
    have been working for over 14 years and still the prison population
    does not change. Still there is a high, disproportionate number of
    black, 14 to 24-year-old males in custody, considering the number
    of white counterparts.

    Obviously I have my ideas of why that is. Of course the criminal
    justice system needs an overhaul before any of this will change.
    The black male has to make a change in his negative attitude of
    ‘what’s the point?’ We need equal opportunities in the
    workplace, not just a mission statement that everyone reads, and
    no-one follows. But it is not going to be easy – it wasn’t for me!
    I have had to work hard for all that I have ever had.

    I have two degrees and am presently trying to undertake a MSC in
    forensic psychology and child law, but it’s not easy. I have
    had to work hard to ensure that I work harder than my white
    counterparts and be better than them, just to ensure that I am the
    best candidate for whatever I am doing, not just the best black
    candidate. I don’t want anyone to ‘cut me any slack’ because of my
    colour.

    I found the whole concept of ‘positive discrimination’ offensive
    to me and I want a job on my merits and experience and abilities,
    not just on my colour. But I am aware that this is necessary, to
    some degree, as people may not even be given an opportunity to show
    their abilities without it. So to some degree I really am grateful
    that we have Equal Opportunities.

    Black males have, for the longest time, been discriminated
    against in schools, and put down and disregarded. It doesn’t take
    much to break the will, but when you are constantly fighting and
    losing, you give up in the end. You feel stupid if you don’t. You
    hear your self say, ‘what’s the point?’ They won’t hire me
    and they usually don’t! So you do what’s left, you try to get
    back the only way that you can and that is undermine the society
    that rejected you.

    This is not an excuse for the black male. I want things to
    change for the future and I am still hopeful they will, but it
    takes so long. More must be done to help, support, encourage the
    black males so they feel worthwhile. It is hard work, but it is
    worth it.”

    Maxine Chirciu-Hanson

    “As usual, I am often bemused by the ‘revelations’ that these
    pieces of research produce: the black community has been one of the
    most researched communities in the United Kingdom and yet the
    environment in which we have to survive remains the same excepting
    a few cosmetic changes.

    As a local government employee of some 17 years, I feel
    competent to comment and respond to your question. When I first
    entered the local government employment it was in response to the
    Scarman Report following the Brixton Disturbances. The government
    of the day ‘recognised’ that black people were not represented
    along the hallowed corridors of town halls so a few were brought
    in.

    Naturally, our white colleagues were not accustomed to seeing
    the faces of black people sitting behind the desks; after all we
    had always been consumers. And even then we could not access the
    services that were available to the host community. The employers
    responded by hiring a plethora of so-called race awareness trainers
    (the fact that most were black did not mean anything), the end
    result being…white colleagues became more creative in making
    their prejudices. I contend that nothing has changed.

    It is, however, rather interesting to note that Diane Curry
    believes that “overtly, racism isn’t there any longer. People still
    hold racist views though, and transfer them into more covert
    situations”. I do not really understand how she arrived at this
    conclusion but it only further allows those who are racist to cite
    such comments as hers to dismiss their practices.

    Notwithstanding the above, and what may appear to be cynicism on
    my part (well-founded I might add), there are a few observations
    that I have:         

    – reduce the excessive and punitive use of exclusions from
    schools as a way of dealing with what teachers perceive as
    unacceptable behaviour.

    – local authorities should review the decision that was taken in
    the 1980’s to close youth clubs. As an ex-youth worker, I am well
    aware of the benefits that both parents and children derived from
    them. It also meant that mum and dad knew exactly where their son
    or daughter was between the evening hours of 6 to 10pm.

    – more access to training that would lead to gainful employment.
    The policy of coercing the majority of school leavers into colleges
    whether they have the academically ability not only creates
    problems for the young person but also the educational
    establishment.”

    Anonymous

    “To prevent young people from minority ethnic groups, and all
    young people, from being involved with the justice system, we need
    to start to discover their views, values and dreams from an early
    age and then put in the resources to enable them to put these into
    practice.

    As a society, we spend a lot of time, money and energy pushing
    our values and plans onto children and young people but spend
    almost nothing on finding out their thoughts.

    This is not an insight that came from myself, but from my
    children. As a user of children and family services for a number of
    years, I had bitterly complained one day about never being
    consulted about my wishes only to have my son say, “Now you know
    what it feels like to be a teenager these days.” It changed how I
    went about planning for the future with my children and revealed to
    me how much knowledge, imagination and strength they had.

    Poverty is a very significant factor in the lives of millions of
    children, especially from minority ethnic groups, and cannot be
    ignored. Providing leisure, education, life-skills or cultural
    services is not enough, they must be financially and physically
    accessible to the poorest young people and that might mean
    providing not just free services but also a bus fare to get there
    and maybe even having an outreach worker to meet with and encourage
    the participation of hard to reach youngsters.

    As adults, we each have a responsibility to look at our children
    and young people as a valuable resource for the future and to work
    with them to enable them to have the confidence, security and
    self-esteem to dare to dream.”

    Moraene Roberts
    Family member
    ATD Fourth World, London

    “More can be done to explore the dynamics that set young
    people from ethnic minorities up to become victims of the low and
    false expectations of the majority of English people.

    We also need to look at the dynamics of our culture and
    traditions that have helped to foster family cohesion and
    stability. We should look at the processes for assessing what
    determines crime within our communities and the relationships that
    we develop with our peers and authority figures and agencies.

    There also needs to be a systematic evaluation of the emotional
    and psychological
    relationships that young people develop with their parents and
    other adults who promote self-esteem and wellbeing. One thing for
    sure is that black people are feeling people and they pick up other
    people’s feeling about these and internalise them.

    The subject of emotional literacy needs to be tackled if any
    inroads are going to be made.”

    Anonymous

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