Racial bias is pulling Black young adults into an avoidable cycle of crisis and crime

Today, Revolving Doors Agency publishes an analysis of government data that shows Black young adults (18-24) are significantly more likely to be dragged into the criminal justice system for relatively low-level and non-violent offences, such as theft or minor drug offences. Rather than being given the support they need, they are swept away into our criminal justice system.

Ministry of Justice data reveals that:

  • Repeat offenders account for nearly 40% of all people in the criminal justice system – the highest levels on record[i].
  • The proportion of Black adults that are convicted of 16 or more offences has doubled between 2000 and 2016 – now constituting 10% of all repeat offenders[ii].

Black young adults are:

  • Twice as likely to receive a caution
  • 8.4 times more likely to receive a conviction
  • 1.5 times more likely to be sent to prison
  • Given prison sentences that are 80% longer than those given white young adults who commit similar offences.

Over the last 10 years the number young adults going through the criminal justice system has significantly decreased, but…

  • The rate of fall has been different across ethnicities. The fall for white young adults was 55% and for Black young adults was 34%. This has led to an increase in the proportion of Black young adults in the system[iii].
  • Sentencing has become harsher for everyone. There are falling rates of community sentences and increasing rates of immediate prison sentences. Black young adults are less likely to get a community sentence and more likely to receive an immediate custodial sentence than their white counterparts.[iv]

The government has not explained why these racial disparities exists.

HMI Wendy Williams, from HM Inspectorate for Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services said:

“As the gatekeepers of the criminal justice system, the police have both the responsibility and the opportunity to divert young people from the system wherever appropriate. This responsibility must be fulfilled fairly and legitimately. Trust in our police – and the life outcomes of these young people – depend on it.

“But this report raises questions and concerns about racial disparities in how the police decide to deal with the young people with whom they come into contact. Policing must be able to answer these questions, and show how they are actively addressing these concerns.”

Nathan Dick, Head of Policy, Revolving Doors Agency said:

“Our justice system has a problem with racial discrimination. Too many Black young adults are being unnecessarily dragged into the revolving door for minor and non-violent crimes.  But there are solutions, and good reason to believe we can tackle these inequalities.

“Our police can divert young adults away from the criminal justice system into support and a brighter future. For people caught committing relatively low-level and non-violent offences it is the smart thing to do, it is proven to work, it reduces crime, it makes communities safer and it changes lives.”

Chief Constable Andy Rhodes, the NPCC lead for workforce development said:

“This latest report from Revolving Doors Agency is important and must strengthen our commitment to invest in schemes to divert young people, particularly young black adults, away from the criminal justice system into more effective interventions.

“Whilst there have been encouraging reductions in young adults entering the system there is much more we can do and the report rightly calls out the disproportionality in relation to race. We cannot have accountability without good data and we cannot design good solutions unless we involve and listen to people who have experienced the system first hand.”

Chief Constable Mark Collins, the NPCC lead for mental health and policing said:

“We must act upon this data and maximise the opportunities for the use of diversionary schemes. We need to work closely with partners and organisations to reduce the numbers of young black people entering the criminal justice system and being criminalized for very minor offences.”

Joyce Moseley OBE, the Chair of Transition to Adulthood Alliance said:

‘I commend the work of the Revolving Doors Agency for shining a light on these serious concerns in the justice system.  It has been almost three years since David Lammy MP produced his ground-breaking review. He called for criminal justice agencies to ‘explain or reform’ disparities between ethnic groups. The information contained in the report demonstrates the need for significantly more activity to seek out and address the biases in the system. 

“We at the Transition to Adulthood Alliance have collected strong evidence that Young Adults continue to develop maturity into their early twenties. This is a crucial period when young people develop their adult identities, we need to ensure that all young people have an equal chance of making a successful transition from child to adult.”


[i] Ministry of Justice. 2019. ‘Offenders convicted for indictable offences by previous criminal history, year ending March 2009 to 2019’. Table Q6.1. London. Ministry of Justice.

[ii] Ministry of Justice. 2019. ‘Prolific offenders: experimental statistics.’ London. Ministry of Justice.

[iii] See page 8, Table 1 in the evidence briefing for reduction in convictions for young adults

[iv] The rate of fall for community sentences is 47% among Black young adults vs 36% among white young adults (See Figure 1, on p.11). The rate of increase for immediate custody is 81% among Black young adults vs 53% among white young adults (See Figure 2, on p.12).