More work needed on racial issues

SUFFOLK'S probation service today admitted work needs to be done to ensure racist offenders are not dealt with by ethnic minority officers.A national report into the issue has found there is "considerable scope for improvement" in the way the service deals with racially-motivated convicts.

SUFFOLK'S probation service today admitted work needs to be done to ensure racist offenders are not dealt with by ethnic minority officers.

A national report into the issue has found there is "considerable scope for improvement" in the way the service deals with racially-motivated convicts.

It found there was the possibility they could be placed in the hands of ethnic minority probation officers, who could in turn be left vulnerable to attack.

The report looked at seven areas, including Suffolk, and found a lack of "robust systems" to identify and monitor them.

The others scrutinised were West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Cumbria, Northumbria and Norfolk.

However, Robin Merriam, assistant chief officer of Suffolk Probation Area, said the small number of cases of this type in the county means it is not a major problem.

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He said: "In Suffolk, we have relatively few offenders who have been convicted of racially motivated offences.

"We're talking about only five or six in Suffolk over the past year, which is what they've looked at.

"In cases of this, we challenge it in a vigorous and robust way. The report says we're supervising these people well but our overall management strategy could be improved. The reason we don't put a lot of time into it is because the offences are small in number.

"But we do train our staff in dealing with these types of offenders and that was also applauded in the report."

Andrew Bridges, chief inspector of probation, was commissioned to carry out the report by the government.

He uncovered instances where offenders were not challenged about their racism, which could have "compromised" staff safety.

He also discovered examples of good practice, including in Suffolk, but stressed it was important they did not remain "isolated exceptions'.

A new offence of racially-motivated violence and harassment was created in 1998.

In 1999/00 there were 21,750 racist offences reported to police, but by 2003/04 the figure had risen to 35,021.

There were 2,684 prosecutions in 2000/01, with a conviction rate of 83 per cent, and 4,192 in 2002/03 with a conviction rate of 85pc.

Have been the victim of a race-hate crime? Write to Your Letters, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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