Ethnicity and crime


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Questions of ethnicity and gender were barely looked at by sociologists of crime and deviance until the 1970s. The primary focus was on class. Since the 1970s, sociologists have recognised the need to focus on ethnicity and gender. It was assumed that the CJS treated all ethnic groups fairly. A major investigation into police immigrant relations in 1972 argued that ‘black people were more law abiding than the general population’ and there was little evidence of racist attacks against Black and Asian immigrants.

However during the 1980s, relations between the police and the Black community deteriorated and there was increasing evidence of racist attacks. The Scarman Report 1981 into the Brixton disorders emphasised how the riots were essentially an outburst of anger and resentment by young African Caribbean’s against the harassment they received by the police.

A Home Office Report in 1985 looked at racial attacks. It revealed that South Asians were 50x more likely and Afro-Caribbean’s were 36x more likely to be the victims of racially motivated attacks than whites.

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Phillips and Bowling 2002 argue that the UK criminal justice system is racist. They point to the higher number of stop and searches of black men (5-8 times higher than whites), higher numbers of arrests, over policing in inner-city areas and the use of racially abusive language.


After the racist murder of the black youth, Stephen Lawrence, in 1993 the McPherson Inquiry was set up to examine the circumstances of his death. It concluded by saying that the police were institutionally racist. This means that procedures, practices and a culture that tend to exclude or to disadvantage non-white people. The McPherson Inquiry effectively confirmed what many sociologists had been arguing for years.

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Waddington et al 2004 agree that the police do stop a proportionately higher number of minority ethnics compared to whites, but do not agree that this is due to racism. They argue that there are simply more, young minority ethnic men out at night in city centres compared to whites. In other words, the police will target anyone in high crime areas, and if these people are disproportionately Black or Asian, they are targeted not because of their ethnicity but simply because of their presence in the area.

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Lea and Young argue that Afro-Caribbean’s are more criminal because of relative deprivation, subcultures and marginalization. New Criminologists such as Hall and Gilroy also argue that when black men did turn to crime it was down to structural factors such as poverty, unemployment and poor housing. They therefore contradicted themselves when they claimed the high black crime rate was just a moral panic.

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Reasons for the high criminality of afro-Caribbean

  1. Lack of educational success -
    - afro-Caribbean boys leave school with the lowest qualifications of any ethnic group
    - in 2006, only 23% of black boys gained 5 or more good GCSEs compared to the national average of 44%


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Reasons for the high criminality of afro-Caribbean

  1. Family structures -
    - 60% of young black children live with just one parent, normally the mother, compared to 20% of white children
    - lack of male role models


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Reasons for the high criminality of afro-Caribbean


  1. Influence of the mass media -
    - black RAP artists
    - media over reporting (Cohen)
    - creation of folk devils
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