Statement: Black Lives Matter
Women in Prison statement on Black Lives Matter and being anti-racist
17th June 2020
At Women in Prison, we stand alongside those challenging racism through Black Lives Matter protests and other actions worldwide and those who believe it is possible to build a more just and fair world. We send our deepest condolences to all those affected by the deaths of their loved ones at the hands of the state.
Although recent days have shone a spotlight on the racism Black people face in the US criminal justice system, we know our country faces the same challenges. At Women in Prison, we fight for a gender-responsive justice system that recognises the unique needs and experiences of women. We know this mission is impossible to tackle without a deep and clear understanding of how race intersects with those experiences. Britain is a structurally racist society and this bleeds into our justice system.
In the criminal justice system, this manifests itself as Black people being 4 times more likely than white people to be in prison in Britain - greater disproportionately than in the US. The disadvantages within this system which are experienced by all women, including the harm of imprisonment and poor outcomes on release, are compounded for Black, Asian and minoritised women who face entrenched structural inequalities and institutional racism.
We know that, following a conviction, Black women are 29% more likely than white women to be remanded in custody at the Crown Court and 25% more likely than white women to receive a custodial sentence. We know that women from minority ethnic groups as a whole make up 11.9% of the women’s population in England and Wales, and yet they are 18% of the women’s prison population (as reported in Counted Out). In terms of the workforce of the criminal justice system, only 1.2% of police officers in the UK are Black, only 30 court judges are Black (just over 1%) and only 3.7% of magistrates are Black.
When the Lammy Review was published in 2017, Women in Prison and Agenda published our report, ‘Double Disadvantage’, which focused on the voices of Black, Asian and minoritised women in prison and shone a light on their experience of racism. We found that Black, Asian and minoritised women did not feel their voices and stories had been heard in court proceedings and that women’s experiences were that prejudices and subconscious ethnic or racial bias affected jury assumptions and sentencing decisions. We are dismayed that three years on, the Lammy recommendations remain unaddressed.
In light of recent events, we have been asking ourselves if we have been doing enough to push for change. The answer is that we have not. To address this, we will be working with our partner women’s centres and others to imagine and create a different system of justice in our communities. We aim to agree on a plan of actions we can each take to address the long-standing issues of racial injustice in prisons and communities.
But we also know that change begins at home. In our own organisation, we are far from perfect in our response to institutional racism. We have work to do, not just on our systems and policies, but on our own personal attitudes and behaviour and our work with the women we serve. We know this is uncomfortable for our staff and trustees, and requires accountability as well as kind and open-hearted challenge and a willingness to make mistakes and learn from them.
Over the last 18 months, we have been working hard to progress, and improve our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan and we will be adding further measures to help us achieve our goals in the coming weeks. We know that, without owning our own failings, we cannot be part of leading and influencing change across the broken system, and that our efforts to eradicate racism and be actively anti-racist need to be a constant priority in all we do.
In the words of Angela Davis, we believe that “this moment holds possibilities for change we have never before experienced” and that “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”