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Race and criminal justice at the Labour conference

The
opportunity to attend my first party conference as a bursary winner with the NCVO
in my home town of Liverpool had enough pull factors. On the train to Liverpool
I was questioning not so much the importance of the first annual Labour conference in
Liverpool since 1925 as the so-called progress made by
Labour over 13 years in pole position. I heard lots of talk about the
significant investment made by Labour which transformed Liverpool. However,
coming from the inner-city district of Toxteth, I found this debatable, because if you look beyond a newly developed city centre, gross inequalities
and long-term unemployment remain. 

Following
the advice of a previous NCVO bursary winner and partner organisation,
Federation of Irish Societies, I invested the time in exploring the range of
fringe events. The method was to contribute towards the development of a
particular policy area at my own organisations, Race on the Agenda (ROTA),
providing representation to Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities
who experience disadvantage and discrimination at the intersection of mental
health and criminal justice.

I attended a range of fringe events and roundtable discussions
where Hazel Blears, Jack Dromey and Roberta Blackman-Woods were present and
highlighted the large scale listening exercise Labour appears to have employed
over the past 16 months in opposition. However, it was the several speeches
where I heard the thoughts of Sadiq Khan which answered some of my questions,
raised concerns and, unsurprisingly, left me with more questions.

As shadow secretary of state for justice, it was not unusual to hear of concerns
surrounding government cuts to law and order and progress that was assumed to
have been made in reducing reported crime. Tony Blair’s phrase of  ‘tough on crime, tough on the
causes of crime’, with its emphasis on early intervention, is an area we at Race On The Agenda believe
deserves focus as a contributory factor to reducing crime. It was also encouraging to hear the support for restorative justice. But at the
same time there were calls for more  contracts based on payments by
results, which makes us uneasy, as a representative body of small BAME organisations, because of the poor viability of this system of working and the damage it has already
caused.  

It
was interesting to hear some overarching concerns and a smidgen of honesty
which surrounded discussions about the higher numbers than ever before
in the prison system and reoffending soaring to more than 65 per cent. With questions
about road traffic accidents and job cuts, one issue that was not put on the
agenda or, worryingly, not alluded to by Khan, was that of disproportionality. At
almost every stage of the criminal justice system there exists a
disproportionate representation of BAME people. Yet it felt peculiar that there
was no mention of race, which seems to fit into a wider where there is racism
but no race – hence a detachment between policy and reality.

Anthony
Salla, Policy Officer, Race on the Agenda

  • Ivor Sutton

    While I feel that many will say it is good advice to ‘avoid party political activity’, I do not necessarily believe it is possible or right to disengage from forming political views and enhancing ones opinion on those views by managing a range of diverse activities in life.

    It does send a shiver down my spine when people say ‘they don’t like politics’ or they don’t have any view on it. Well, it’s part of our lives whether we like it or not. It influences us to be angry, happy or just simply content. So, to say that we don’t have a view on the decision-making that in some way effects our roads, our NHS or how we cycle.. is quite disingenuous.