The Voice newspaper has published Black Mental Health UK's (BMH UK) open letter to Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary Drusilla Sharpling CBE on the need to allay fears that concerns over the treatment of black people, from the UK's African Caribbean communities, who are taken into police custody has not been sidelined in the inspectorates Joint Inspection of Police Custody Arrangements schedule to being next month.
We have chosen to make this letter public because this work builds on learning from a thematic review on the welfare of vulnerable people in police custody that was ordered by the ordered by the Home Secretary on the back of campaigning by BMH UK.
The letter from BMH UK's director Matilda MacAttram opens : 'I appreciate you letting me as a member of the expert reference group know that HMIC are working closely with colleagues at the Home Office who are leading on the next steps in overseeing the implementation of the vulnerability in custody report.
Then continues: 'this report came about after Black Mental Health UK (BMH UK) raised concerns with the Home Secretary on the treatment of black people at the hands of the police back in 2014.'
MacAttram then adds: 'I noted in the introduction of The welfare of vulnerable people in custody report that HMIC mentioned that, 'In particular we were asked by the Home Secretary to consider groups for whom there has been "a pronounced concern" about their treatment in police custody (especially people of African-Caribbean descent).'(sic).
This acknowledgement and the subsequent review was viewed by black Briton, for whom this has been a longstanding concern, as a recognition of this issue, and also a commitment to improve this going forward.'
The letter continues: 'your report showed the disturbing but unsurprising fact that black people from the UK's African Caribbean communities are three times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts, and are held in custody for longer than average lengths of detention.'
'It was quite troubling to learn from this report that this group account for 17% of those who are subject to strip search while in police custody, even though they make up just 9% of the national population.'
This letter also says: 'This report also makes reference to HMIC's detainee voice project and contributions made by people from the community invited by BMH UK that attended a joint focus group, who said that black people 'felt they were discriminated against by the police. They cited examples of rudeness, disrespect or an over-use of force which they attributed to racism.'(sic).'
'These findings confirm the concerns raised by the Home Secretary, which are widely held cross Britons black communities.
In light of this I felt it important to write to you, as there is no reference in your correspondence to how any of the issues relating to black people from the UK's African Caribbean communities will be prioritised by HMIC in your change programme.'
BMH UK have noted the flurry of inquiries and reviews that have been set up to address concerns across the criminal justice system, that continue to hit black Britons hardest, that have not made any difference to the way that this group are treated.
This has left Black Briton inquiry fatigued, what the community need to see is action that will bring about change.
Copies of the three page correspondence have also been sent to the Home Secretary Theresa May MP, and Sir Sir Tom P Winsor WS, (sgd) HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary.
Inquiry abuse of black Briton?
This letter continues: ' I note that your letter states that you will continue to work jointly with other agencies through existing groups focused on improving outcomes for vulnerable people in custody - such as those established by the Home Office.'
'The Home Office has not had any communication with BMH UK or the stakeholder groups that we serve on HMIC's thematic review or recommendation going forward. However, I am aware that work is being progressed jointly by the Home Office and HMIC on the issue children in custody, which was the other main focus of the thematic review.'
'There great feeling of inquiry fatigue among the UKs African Caribbean communities because of the number of high level reviews and investigations, particularly in the area of criminal justice and mental health that have been conducted in the past.'
'This is because many of these former reports have also acknowledged the disproportionate and sometimes unjust way black people from the UKs African Caribbean communities are treated throughout the different stage of the justice system. However any recommendations and subsequent policy changes and follow up work that is needed that will lead to actual change and improvements for this group have been consistently absent.'
'BMH UK would have liked to have seen a commensurate commitment to addressing the inequalities faced by black people when in custody that HMIC and the Home Office have given to addressing the concerns raised in the thematic report over the detention of children.'
'I do hope that in this instance, that this can be revisited and the required engagement with the agencies from this community, such as BMH UK, can be made so that the good work that HMIC has begun in this area can lead to changes that address the 'pronounced concern' that the findings this report have reinforced.'
Then concludes: ' The issue of criminal justice system and black Briton, particularly in relation to how it treats those viewed to be in need of mental health care, is of major concern for the UK's African Caribbean communities, it is a very pressing and personal issue for us.'
'This is why I though it important to make this an open letter, as many across the community have been following this process since the thematic review was announced in 2014. Also those who have contributed to this work, are hoping that the investment of their time will yield positive results and allay the fears that they have not been a victim of 'inquiry abuse'.
By Matilda MacAttram, director Black Mental Health UK, Fellow, United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.
Copyright © 2016 Matilda MacAttram All rights reserved.
For information on obtaining permission to resue this work email
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission, where published the authors byline, biography and copyright notice are retained in their entireity.