|Black men are nine times more likely to be locked up compared to white men
New Home Office statistics show numbers of African-Caribbean prisoners has leapt a staggering 58% since 1997, with young black men making up over 90% of all black inmates.
Penal experts expressed shock over the dramatic rise in the numbers of black prisoners, which has far outstripped the numbers of African-Caribbean’s going to university. For every African Caribbean man in university there are now two in jail.
The last six years have seen the steepest-ever climb in the numbers and proportion of black prisoners. Today there are now three times as many African-Caribbeans behind bars than there were in 1985 when Douglas Hurd was Home Secretary.
The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) called on the government reverse the trends, and campaigners urged ministers to tackle racism in the criminal justice system.
The prison figures come as news emerged of a possible suicide of a 20-year-old Asian man behind bars. Sajjad Hussain, from Manchester, is believed to have taken his own life at the Lancaster Farm young offenders institute last Friday (20th February), where he was on remand charged with robbery.
Reacting to the prison population figures Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, expressed alarm and said the government needed to take racism in the criminal justice system seriously.
She added: “Not only have [overall prison] numbers risen, but the numbers of Afro-Caribbean’s have increased at an alarming proportion.”
“At very concerned that at every level of the criminal justice system black people are over-represented, and that in particular more Afro-Caribbean young men are entering prison than university.”
African-Caribbean’s made up 8% of the total prison population in 1985, but that figure had risen to 12% when Labour won power in 1997. It is now 17%. The numbers of South Asians in jail has also risen recently.
Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “It’s very worrying. It reflects racism in the general population, but also increasing concerns of racism being directed at particular groups of people.”
She added: “The hate campaigns [against asylum seekers] of the tabloids has a knock-on effect in terms of sentencing of black people.”
The CRE recently published part two of its’ formal investigation into the prison service following the death of Zahid Mubarak, 19, at the hands of a racist cellmate in 1999.
The report, called ‘Race Equality in Prisons’, found that for every 100,000 white people in Britain, 188 were in jail. But for black people the figure was 1,704. That means black people are over nine times more likely to be in prison than their white counterparts.
A CRE spokeswoman said: “Imprisonment is becoming a defining experience for some ethnic minority groups. In 2002, there were more African Caribbean entrants to prisons in England and Wales than there were to UK universities. And for every African Caribbean male on campus, there were two black Britons in jail.
“We have called for this two-to-one ratio to be reversed within six years. So by 2010 there should be twice as many black students on campus are there are black people in custody.”
Charles Bailey, a music producer and head of the Don’t Shoot campaign, said: “We need to try and get young black men into work. We need to get them out of a life of crime.
“But also we need to look at comparisons between offenders who are white who have been committed for the same crimes, and see whether they have been treated the same way.”
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Latest Home Office prison figures (Pdf)
CRE report ‘Race Equality in Prisons’ (Pdf)
CRE report into the death of Zahid Mubarak (Pdf)