United Nations working group to be alerted to disturbing spate of black deaths in custody

United Nations working group to be alerted to disturbing spate of black deaths in custody

Black Mental Health UK are among the organisations contributing to a civil society seminar included in the UK visit of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent organised by the Runnymede Trust and the Open Society Justice Initiative.

The United Nations Working Group (UNWG) of Experts on People of African Descent visit to the United Kingdom from the 1st to 5th October 2012 is part of a fact finding mission to gather first-hand information on the situation of people of African descent in this country.

The seminar scheduled to take place today, this week, entitled Black People’s Experience of Justice in England and Wales’ will focus on some of the key issues affecting people of African descent living in the UK.

Matilda MacAttram from BMH UK and Deborah Coles from Inquest have been invited to speak to the UN delegation about black deaths in custody. Other issues that will also be discussed at this seminar include: stop and search; racial violence; black over representation in prison and diversity in the workplace.

The high profile inquest verdict into the death of mental health service user Sean Rigg has pushed the issue of deaths in custody up the political agenda.

With data from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) showing that 50% of people who lose their lives in police are mental health service users, the treatment of this group, and while in the custody of the police will also be discussed.

In response to campaign work by BMH UK and INQUEST as well as the Sean Rigg Inquest, the Metropolitan Police annoucned it has launched an ‘indepdendent commission’ into policing and mental health.

The exclusion of key agencies like BMH UK and INQUEST that have been actively working in the area of deaths in custody, mental health and policing from the Metropolitan Police’s new commission on mental health and policing will also be brought to the attention of the UN delegation.

Moves by the Department of Health to bury data on ethnicity at a time when detention rates under the Mental Health Act are at their highest among Briton’s black communities is something that BMH UK will also be raising at this meeting.

Matilda MacAttram director of Black Mental Health UK said: ‘With detention rates under the Mental Health Act at their highest rate since people from the UK’s African Caribbean communities having been living in this country, BMH UK welcome the opportunity to bring the treatment of mental health service users by the police and the issue of deaths in custody to the attention of the UN delegation.

We know that 50% of people who lose their lives in police custody are mental health service users, and black people are over represented among this group. We welcome the international focus on the injustices faced by this vulnerable group as this is one the most pressing areas where there is a need for urgent change.’

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