By the Traveller Movement
The Coronavirus crisis means most of us are in some form of lockdown. It spotlights how we look after our most vulnerable. Some have compared our nationwide restrictions to being in prison. Many will be familiar with the often-quoted statistic: Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) people make up 0.1% of the general population but, comprise 5% of the prison population.
Those of us involved in supporting GRT people, in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) know that this statistic is probably an under estimate. Many GRT people are reluctant to declare their ethnicity due to a well-founded fear of discrimination. Some of us have witnessed this discrimination first hand within some parts of the CJS, and we have challenged it. We will continue to do so. As time passes compelling statistics are starting to emerge evidencing the disproportionate impact of Coronavirus on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people. There are calls for an inquiry into this, once the crisis is over. Like other communal environments, such as care homes, opportunities for Coronavirus to spread through personal and social contact in prisons are extremely high.
Two weeks ago the Ministry of Justice encouragingly announced plans to roll out a temporary early release scheme for some low risk inmates. Despite this commitment, progress remains slow. On 14 April, the CEO of HMPPS, Jo Farrar confirmed 13 inmates and 3 prison staff members had died of Coronavirus; 203 inmates and 49 staff have tested positive.
There are growing demands to also release those who are most vulnerable, due to poor health. One of our biggest challenges is we do not truly know how many GRT people are in prison.
We do know that GRT people generally:
This is a crisis on the horizon for GRT people. Through our Criminal Justice work we will continue to campaign to improve data collection and monitoring across the CJS. The Lammy Review, (2017) made a recommendation to address this for GRT people; it introduced the principle of ‘explain or reform’[iv]. In reality we cannot accurately measure and evaluate the impact of Coronavirus on GRT people in prison, compared to other BAME groups, because there is no accurate data. Under these circumstances, with lives at risk, this is unacceptable; It’s time to ‘explain or reform’.
And, for anyone, on the ‘outside,’ who compares our lockdown to being in prison – remember you have the keys to your own door.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Traveller Movement.