Soft tools for hard problems

In the six months or so that I have been chairing Equal, it’s become clear to me that conventional tools alone won’t break this awful disproportional treatment that black people and Muslims in particular face in the criminal justice system. As David Lammy says in this Guardian article, there is no silver bullet.

Whilst we continue to work with the Ministry of Justice and other government bodies to help them get their houses in order, we can also develop tools and mechanisms of our own. The tendency towards criminalisation among young black and Muslim men in particular is not going to go away unless a raft of new measures get initiated.

A decade ago I helped initiate a programme at Mosaic, then part of Business in the Community, looking at creating a mentoring programme for the ever rising numbers of Muslims ending up in prison. We need to revive initiatives like that but make them more widely engaging. We know for fact that released offenders are dramatically less likely to end up back in crime if they have a job yet in many Muslim communities, business owners don’t offer up such opportunities.

If we believe in the mantra “we’re all in this together”, Muslim owned businesses need to step up and play their part. The business owners need mentoring as much as the offenders.

With young black men we’ve been hearing for years that growing up without a father figure triggers social exclusion, mental health issues and then so often a drift into crime. But the discussion largely remains just that – talk. There are so many successful black men who’ve climbed through humble and troubled environments to scale the heights of professions, business and culture whose journeys and achievements should be actively vocalised so that they are seen as more than exceptions to a rule but instead seen as creating paths which others can credibly follow.

So here are two things I want to initiate – firstly, a vehicle to take to the next level what we started with Mosaic and create a platform for Muslim owned businesses and senior executives to be convinced of their role to play in reducing re-offending and then find ways for them to do so. Secondly, we need to create an active network of successful black people who would be willing to spend a little time going into schools, community groups and prisons to talk about what success looks like and how they achieved it.

We must of course continue to chip away at conscious or unconscious institutional bias but we can also create our own tools at the same time which are presently lacking in our armour and with a bit of a push getting the right people together, we can start to fix.

About Iqbal Wahhab

Founder of The Cinnamon Club and Roast. High Sheriff of Greater London
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