By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
“Instances of racism continue to shame us, for they show that our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive as we think.” (Pope Francis)
In T&T, our Church has been speaking out over the years about the number of persons held on remand in prison for inordinate lengths of time awaiting trial. It is public knowledge that quite a number of persons have been in prison for a longer time than the maximum sentence they would have received had they been tried and convicted for the crime alleged to have been committed.
It is clear also that our correctional and care facilities for at-risk youths leave much to be desired, as can be seen, for example by the deaths of 2 of the 5 minors who escaped from a facility that was under the care of the Children’s Authority. In March this year, two of them, Antonio Francois and Semion Daniel, were shot and killed.
And while we are talking about people on remand in T&T, I wish to share some disturbing findings in England, where there are serious issues about black children in custody.
In his article on June 30 in Leading Britain’s Conversation (LBC), Matthew Thompson says that LBC’s investigation finds that in February this year, 74 per cent of London children held in prisons awaiting trial are black.
“Children on remand have not been convicted of any crime. Instead, a judge or a magistrate has decided that they must await their trial in prison. There, potentially vulnerable, even innocent children can be exposed to hardship, and to hardened criminals…
“An even higher percentage, 88 per cent or nearly 9 out of 10 children were from black or other minority ethnic backgrounds. The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act to the charity Transform Justice, also show that for large parts of last year, the figures remained as high as 90 per cent.
“These numbers are hugely disproportionate, given that the black population of London is around 13 per cent, according to Greater London Assembly data from 2016. The black and minority ethnic population of London as a whole is thought to be around 44 per cent. But even if we account for the fact that the justice system often has disproportionate outcomes for ethnic minorities, our findings are still striking.
“The figures for black and minority ethnic children on remand in London are also much higher than in England and Wales as a whole, where the figure last year stood at 57 per cent, and just 33 per cent for black children alone…
“A spokesperson for the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: ‘These worrying figures highlight the continued concern that many people – particularly young people – from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are not being treated fairly in the criminal justice system. It’s vital that this unfairness is tackled head on.”
Let us take heed of Pope Francis’ profound words. In 2015 he said: “… racial scapegoating factors into why society favours taking freedom away from some groups and placing them behind bars for years rather than remedy the social ills that keep prisons overflowing.”
As the Vatican reports, on March 21, 2021, UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Pope Francis once again denounced racism, likening it to “a virus that quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting” only to emerge and show that “our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive” as people think.
Changing hearts and minds at all levels of society require constant vigilance and commitment. I know that we are all up to the challenge of building God’s Kingdom of justice, peace, truth, love, freedom, and forgiveness.
Pope Francis’ social encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, urges us to stand in solidarity, brotherhood/sisterhood with those in need – globally. Let us work and pray that our God of justice will spur us on to eradicate this virus of racism which continues to disfigure our era.
SOCIAL JUSTICE QUOTE FOR THE WEEK
There is a growing awareness of the sublime dignity of human persons, who stand above all things and whose rights and duties are universal and inviolable. They ought, therefore, to have ready access to all that is necessary for living a genuinely human life: for example, food, clothing, housing, … the right to education, and work (26)
Pope Paul VI, Gaudium et Spes
CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee