Guidance

Black and Minority Ethnic service users – effectiveness of rehabilitative services

A summary of evidence relating to the effectiveness of rehabilitative services for BAME people in prison or on probation.

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. They make up a greater proportion of the criminal justice population than of the general population in England and Wales.

To provide effective criminal justice services that respect diversity, we need to know how to achieve the best outcomes for BAME people in prison or on probation.

How good is the evidence and what do we know?

Overall there is insufficient robust evidence about ‘what works’. However, the available research points to some tentative but promising approaches for making rehabilitative services more responsive to BAME people.

‘Standard’ non-culturally adjusted, correctional interventions can benefit BAME people in prison and on probation. However, BAME people can feel isolated and misunderstood in standard correctional programmes. Some studies suggest that this may be overcome by treatment that is:

  • culturally aware, sensitive and inclusive
  • delivered by culturally aware and sensitive staff
  • delivered by staff from similar ethnic backgrounds to service users

Barriers to effective treatment for BAME people may interfere with them starting, completing or engaging with services. Barriers could include:

  • experiences or fear of racism or discrimination
  • the perception (and possible reality) that the intervention will not be culturally relevant

There is early evidence that a strong sense of cultural identity and pride is associated with greater reductions in substance misuse among young people. Explicitly recognising and encouraging cultural identity could be a promising approach to making rehabilitative services more responsive to BAME people.

Research suggests the idea that therapy, or ‘treatment’, is a predominantly white construct, in some cases with no cultural equivalent. This suggests that some BAME people may feel treatment is not accessible or relevant to them. They may fear they will be misunderstood or judged by others’ standards and expectations.

More research is needed to understand this better.

What can we do to achieve better outcomes for BAME people in prison and on probation?

Research is in its infancy. More research is needed to understand and draw firm conclusions about how to improve participation and engagement in, and retention and reoffending outcomes, of BAME people in prison and on probation. However, the available research points to some tentative but promising approaches for making rehabilitative services more responsive to BAME people. These include:

  • Making correctional interventions more relevant to BAME groups
  • Increasing numbers of BAME service users taking up interventions
  • Increasing numbers of BAME staff working in interventions
  • Ensuring treatment materials are relevant to BAME groups and
  • Actively engaging with and respecting cultural experiences and differences
  • Recognising the need for BAME service users to express their cultural identity free from fear of being stereotyped or discriminated against.

Further reading:

Tackling racial disparity in the criminal justice system: 2018 Update on government’s progress tackling disparities, including progress in response to the Lammy Review.

Lammy review: final report An independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the Criminal Justice System (2017)

The Young Review Improving outcomes for young black and/or Muslim men in the Criminal Justice System Final Report (BTEG/Clinks, 2014)

Double Trouble Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Offenders’ experiences of resettlement, (2010 Clinks / Prison Reform Trust)

Tackling Discrimination in Prison: still not a fair response (Prison Reform Trust & Zahid Mubarek Trust 2017)

Ethnicity facts and figures Ethnicity data collected by government in one place.

Race in the Criminal Justice System Statistical information on the representation of black and minority ethnic groups as suspects, offenders and victims within the criminal justice system and on employees within criminal justice agencies.

The effectiveness of rehabilitative services for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people: a rapid evidence assessment (MoJ 2018)

This page summarises the available evidence base and is informed by independent academic peer review. It does not represent Ministry of Justice or Government policy.

Published 15 May 2019