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Ethnicity and criminalisation statistics..

Black people, and to a lesser extent Asians, are over-represented in the system.

Black people make up just 2.8% of the population, but 11% of the prison population.

Asians make up 4.7% of the population, but 6% of the prison population.

By contrast, white people are under-represented at all stages of the criminal justice process.

Such statistics simply tell us about involvement  with the criminal justice system e.g. differences in stop and search may be simply be due to policing strategies or to discrimination by individual officers.

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Victim surveys and self-report studies..

Ask victims to identify the ethnicity of the person who committed the crime against them.
Victim surveys also show that a great deal of crime is intra-ethnic - that is, it takes place within rather than between ethnic groups e.g. according to the British Crime Survey (2007), in 90% of crimes where the victim was white, at least one of the offenders was also white.

However, victim surveys do have several limitations: The rely on victims' memory of events. Evidence suggests that white victims may 'over-identify' blacks- saying the offender was black even when they are not sure.  They exclude the under 16s: minority ethnic groups contain a higher proportion of young people. They tell us nothing about the ethnicity of white-collar criminals.

Self-report studies - Self report studies ask individuals to disclose their own dishonest and violent behaviour. Based on a sample of 2,500 people, Graham and Bowling found that blacks (43%), and whites (44%) had very similar rates of offending, while Indians (30%), Pakistanis (28%) and Bangladeshis (13%) had much lower rates.

The findings of self-report studies challenge the stereotype of black people as being more likely than whites to offend, though they support the widely held view that Asians are less likely to offend

Overall, the evidence on ethnicity and offending is somewhat inconsistent e.g. while official statistics point to the likelihood of higher rates of offending by blacks, this is generally not borne out by the results of self-report studies.

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Ethnicity, racism and the criminal justice system.

Stop and search..
- Compared with white people, black people are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched and Asian people over twice as likely. 
- Statistics from 2006/7 shows that Asians were over three times more likely to be stopped and searched than other people under the Terrorism Act.

Police racism- Phillips and Bowling point out that many officers hold negative stereotypes about ethnic minority as criminals, leading to deliberate targeting for stop and search
Ethnic differences in offending- An alternative explanation is that stop and searches simply reflect ethnic differences in levels of offending. However, it is useful to distinguish between low discretion and high discretion. In low discretion stops, police act on relevant information about a specific offence e.g. a victim's description of the offender. In high discretion stops, police act without specific intelligence. This is where officers use their stereotypes, that disproportionality and discrimination are most likely.

Arrests and cautions..
Figures for England and Wales in 2006/7 show that the arrest rate for blacks was 3.6 times the rate for whites. By contrast, once arrested, blacks and Asians were less likely than whites to receive a cautionOne reason for this may be that members of ethnic minorities groups are more likely to deny the offence and to exercise their right to legal advice. However, not admitting the offence means they cannot be let off with a caution and are more likely to be charged instead.

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The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is the body responsible for deciding whether a case brought by the police should be prosecuted in court. Studies suggest that the CPS is more likely to drop cases against ethnic minorities.
Bowling and Phillips argues that this may be because the evidence presented to the CPS by the police is often weaker and based on stereotyping of ethnic minorities as criminals.


In 2007, just over a quarter of male prison population were from minority ethnic groups, including 15% Black and 7% Asian. Among British nationals, 7.4 per 1,000 black people were in jail compared with 1.7 per 1,000 Asians and 1.4 per 1,000 white people.

As such, blacks were five times more likely to be in prison than whites. Black and Asian offenders are more likely than whites to be serving longer sentences.

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Left realism: Lea and Young..

Lea and Young argues that ethnic differences in the statistics reflect real differences in the levels of offending by different ethnic groups.

They argue that racism has led to the marginalisation and economic exclusion of ethnic minorities, who face higher levels of unemployment, poverty and poor housing. At the same time, the media's emphasis on consumerism promotes a sense of relative deprivation.

  • One response is the formation of delinquent subcultures, especially by young employed black males. This produces higher levels of utilitarian  crime such as theft as a means of coping with relative deprivation. 

They acknowledge that the police often act in racist ways and that this results in the unjustified criminalisation of some members of minority groups. However, they do not believe that discriminatory policing fully explains the differences in the statistics.
Lea and Young thus conclude that the statistics represent real differences in levels of offending between ethnic  groups, and that these are caused by real differences in levels of relative deprivation and marginalisation.

However, Lea and Young can be criticised for their views on police racism e.g. arrest rates in Asians may be lower than blacks not because they are less likely to offend, but because police stereotypes the two groups differently, seeing Asians as passive and Blacks as dangerous.

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Gilroy: the myth of black criminality - Neo-Marxis

The statistics are a social construct resulting from racist labelling and discrimination in the criminal justice system.

Gilroy (1983) argues that the idea of black criminality is a myth created by racist stereotypes of African Caribbeans and Asians. In reality, these groups are no more criminal than any other. However, as a result of the police and criminal justice system acting on these racist stereotypes, ethnic minorities come to be criminalised and therefore to appear in greater numbers in the official statistics.

In Gilroy's view, ethnic minority crime can be seen as a form of political resistance against a racist society, and this resistance has its roots in earlier struggles against British imperialism.

Most blacks and Asians in the UK originated from former British Colonies, where their anti-imperialist struggles taught them how to resist oppression. E.g. through rioting. When they found themselves facing racism in Britain, they adopted the same forms of struggle to defend themselves, but their political struggle was criminalised by the British state.

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Gilroy criticisms..

Lea and Young criticise Gilroy on several grounds:

First-generation immigrants in the 1950s and 60s were very law-abiding, so it is unlikely that they passed down a tradition of anti-colonial struggle to their children.

Most crime is intra-ethnic (both the victim and offender are of the same ethnicity), so it can't be seen as an anti-colonial struggle against racism.

Lea and Young argue that, like the critical criminologists, Gilroy romanticises street crime as somehow revolutionary, when it is nothing of the sort.

Asian crime rates are similar to or lower than whites. If Gilroy were right, then the police are only racist towards blacks and not Asians, which seems unlikely.

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Hall et al: policing the crisis..

The views of Gilroy are to some extent supported by Hall et al's study of Policing the Crisis:

  • Hall et al argues that the 1970s saw a moral panic over black 'muggers' that served the interests of capitalism. They argues that the ruling class are normally able to rule the subordinate classes through consent. 
  • The 1970s saw the emergence of a media-driven moral panic about the supposed growth of a 'new' crime- mugging. In fact there was no evidence of a significant increase in this crime at the time. 
  • Hall et al argues that the emergence of the moral panic as a specifically 'black' crime at the same time as the crisis of capitalism was no coincidence- in their view, the moral panic and the crisis were linked. The myth of the black mugger served as a scapegoat to distract attention from the true cause of problems such as unemployment.
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Ethnicity and victimisation..

Racist victimisation occurs when an individual is selected as a target because of their race, ethnicity or religion. Racist victimisation is nothing new, but was brought back into greater public focus with the racist murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993 and the subsequent inquiry into the handling of the police investigation.

Extent and risk of victimisation:

  • The police recorded 61,000 racist incidents in England and Wales in 2006/7- mostly damage to property or verbal harassment.
  • However, most incidents go unreported. The British Crime Survey estimates there were around 184,000 racially motivated incidents in 2006/7.
  • The 2006/7 British Crime survey shows that people from mixed ethnic backgrounds had a higher risk (36%) of becoming a victim of crime than did blacks (27%), Asians (25%) or whites (24%).

These statistics do not capture the victims' experience of victimisation. Sampson and Phillips note that racist victimisation tends to be ongoing over time, with repeated 'minor' instances of abuse and harassment interwoven with periodic incidents of physical violence. The resulting long-term psychological impact needs to be added to the physical injury and damage to property caused by offenders.

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Responses to victimisation..

Responses to victimisation:

Responses have ranged from situational crime prevention measures such as fireproof doors, to organised self-defence campaigns aimed at physically defending neighbourhoods from racist attacks

Such responses need to be understood in the context of accusations of under-protections by the police, who have often ignored the racist dimensions of victimisation and failed to record or investigate reported incidents properly.

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