Agenda and Women in Prison ran focus groups in prison and the wider BAME community to document women's personal experiences of courts, prison and release. The report found women were not treated fairly in court and unjustly penalized by judges and juries, panels of which were often comprised of white men — women were more likely to be remanded and subsequently not receive a custodial sentence than men, and black women were much more likely than their white counterparts to be given custodial sentences for the same offenses.
Moreover, most were discriminated against and experienced racism in prison from both staff and other prisoners, and some were ostracized by their communities after leaving prison. Moreover, few were informed about the exactitudes and technicalities of court proceedings, with only one in 20 knowing whether they had had a pre-sentence report or not.
One young black interviewee recalled how every member of the jury in her case was a middle-aged white man, and was made to feel it had made up their collective mind about her guilt from the second they saw her. Another recorded how the jury in her case was all-white, bar one Asian man. When she questioned her solicitor about the lack of diversity, he said making a point could come across as provocative and "racist," and would be another mark against her character, so advised her to say nothing.
Several inmates said talking loudly or congregating in groups was often taken by officers to be "aggressive," and a sign inmates were part of a prison gang. BAME inmates also face indirect bureaucratic discrimination due to internal prison policies. One interviewee recalled how she was speaking to a non-English speaking relative in Urdu on the prison phone. The call was terminated, and the inmate told she needed to submit an application to speak in a foreign language on the phone.
Dr. Kate Paradine, Chief Executive of Women in Prison, said the "troubling" accounts of discrimination and injustice of the women included in the report were more evidence of a "completely broken system."
"The answer to the crisis in women's prisons lies not in building more prisons, but in making sure effective community alternatives like women's centres are in place. This is how women can address the multiple disadvantages that often bring them to the criminal justice system, cutting reoffending rates and helping to bring the women's prison population down," she added.
The groups' findings have been submitted to The Lammy Review, an independent review of the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals in the criminal justice system chaired by David Lammy MP. Due to be published in the Summer 2017, preliminary conclusions have starkly highlighted the severe disproportionality in the UK criminal justice system.
For instance, for every 100 white women handed custodial sentences at Crown Courts for drug offenses, 227 black women were sentenced to custody. For black men, this figure is 141 for every 100 white men.
Of those convicted at Magistrates' Court for sexual offenses, 208 black men and 193 Asian men received custodial sentences for every 100 white men. BAME defendants are more likely than white counterparts to be tried at Crown Court, with young black men around 56 percent more likely.
BAME men were almost 20 percent more likely than white men to be remanded in custody, and five times more likely to be housed in high security cells and wings in prisons for public order offenses than white men.
Mixed ethnic men and women were more likely than white men and women to have adjudications for breaching prison discipline brought against them, but less likely to have those adjudications proven when reviewed. Furthermore, despite prisoner numbers falling by some 66 percent between 2007 and 2017, 41 percent of youth prisoners are ethnic minorities in 2017, compared with 25 percent in 2007.