The author of a landmark Government backed review into the over-representation of black and Asian prisoners in UK jails hopes a visit to Leeds will help answer difficult questions about what he admits is “disproportionate” tougher sentencing of non-white inmates.
David Lammy MP was at HMP Leeds to speak to inmates before he presents his formal recommendations to the Prime Minister in the summer. In November, he published his initial review into racial bias in the criminal justice system.
During his visit to Armley jail, Mr Lammy - a Labour MP for Tottenham - spoke to a group of prisoners from mainly Muslim backgrounds, who form 20 per cent of the prison population in the city.
He heard that in some cases, people from Asian or black backgrounds have received sentences of up to eight years longer than white defendants for the same - or lesser - crimes.
He also heard how a mentoring programme backed by Prince Charles, the Mosaic initiative, is working with inmates to break the cycle of re-offending and provide effective rehabilitation.
“The Government have asked for a review that’s not off the back of a controversy,” Mr Lammy told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
“This is not a review that follows the death of Stephen Lawrence. This is not a review that follows the Brixton riots or the Bradford riots.
“This is a review because the Prime Minister of the day has said ‘enough is enough’.”
He acknowledged that there was real evidence that for the same offence , where someone is found guilty, black and minority ethnic groups got longer sentences that were “disproportionate” to those handed to white offenders.
Asked if he believes the UK justice system is inherently racist, he said: “I don’t want to pre-empt my findings”.
But he added: “I’m very keen that my review is action-oriented and actually encourages the system to look at this positively.
“We have got a youth justice system where everyone is asking questions about disproportionality and why.
“Many of these issues start a long time before the criminal justice system gets involved - schools, families, parenthood and the care system.
“But nevertheless they remain important to look at in the criminal justice system, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Mr Lammy later visited Bradford and held a round-table discussion with MPs, senior police officials and campaigners.