This paper draws on new research that aims to address a gap in our understanding of the experience, treatment, and outcomes for young minority ethnic people in the recent historical youth custody and borstal systems. Considerable attention has been paid to this issue - in 2021, the annual youth justice ... (Show more)
This paper draws on new research that aims to address a gap in our understanding of the experience, treatment, and outcomes for young minority ethnic people in the recent historical youth custody and borstal systems. Considerable attention has been paid to this issue - in 2021, the annual youth justice statistics showed that more than half the young people in custody in England and Wales are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background (Guardian, 8th January 2021), and the Lammy Review, published in 2017, identified significant disproportionality in the youth justice system for minority ethnic groups (Lammy, 2017). However, there has been no substantial historical investigation into the experience of black and minority ethnic groups in British youth justice institutions in the later twentieth century. This paper focuses on borstal institutions (for youths aged 16-21) during the 1970s and 1980s, a period during which race relations and racial discrimination became increasingly politicised. It wasn’t until 1985, some years after the Race Relations Acts of 1965, 1968 and 1976, that statistics of the prison population by ethnic group were published (they have been published annually ever since, Smith, 1997, 126). Evidence before this period comes from a range of sources, including government policy papers and reports, race relations organisations, newspaper reports, memoirs, and oral history accounts.
Central to this presentation, is the 1981 Home Office report, Ethnic Minorities in Borstal, by Neil Fludger, based on evidence from the Young Offender Psychology Unit. The borstal study had been set up in 1974, and the report covered evidence gathered from 13,498 youths who began borstal training between 1974 and the end of 1976. This evidence was unique, as the Director of Psychological Services, P. H. Shapland, wrote in the foreword of the report, ‘For the first time as a routine, information on the ethnic origins of borstal trainees was included in these data’ (Fludger, 1991).
In this paper Fludger’s report will be used as a starting point to consider ethnicity in the youth justice system in the 1970s and 1980s. These post-war decades were marked by growing tensions in race-relations, with significant episodes of racial violence in Notting Hill in 1958, and Brixton in 1981, sparked by Metropolitan Police stop and search tactics (Hall, 1978). Rioting followed in other cities, including Liverpool (Toxteth) and Birmingham (Handsworth). The resulting inquiry led to the Scarman Report, which was published in 1981, and which found clear evidence of racial disadvantage and disproportionate use of ‘stop and search’ power by police against black people. The report highlighted what Robert Beckford (2006) has described as a ‘pathological image of black youth’ during this period. This paper will draw on the Fludger report and other evidence to start to explore the experiences of young black and ethnic minority offenders in the period and consider key questions of how discrimination and difference took shape in the borstal system. (Show less)