TOPIC 9: Ethnicity and crime

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Official stats

  • 86% of White people in UK, 14% non-White
  • 85,000 men in prison - 74% White, 15% Afro-Caribbean, 7% Asian, 3% mixed race, 1% other
  • Afro-Caribbeans not more likely to offend - victims of racism/discrimination
  • Left realists/Marxists view = Afro-Caribbeans more likely to offend
  • Statistical artefact approach = official stats mislead us to believe ethnic minorities more likely to offend, not the case
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Victim studies

  • British Crime Survey = majority of crime: intra-racial
  • Intra-racial = within particular ethnic group
  • 88% of White victims state White offenders involved, 3% Black, 1% Asian, 5% mixed
  • 42% of crimes against Black victims identified as committed by Black offenders, 19% against Asians by Asians, 50% White


  • Only 20% of survey-recorded crimes = personal crimes
  • Bowling and Phillips (2002) = victims influenced by stereotypes
  • White people more likely to ascribe crime to African-Caribbean origin
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Self report studies

  • Graham and Bowling =
    • Home Office study of 14-25 year olds
    • Self-reported offending rates more or less same for White/Black/Asian respondents
    • Black British = 3.6 times more likely to be arrested
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Those of African-Caribbean background more likely to:

  • Be held in custody - charged with more serious offences
  • Plead/found not guilty
  • Receive harsher sentences - 17% higher chance of imprisonment than Whites

Asian background:

  • Plead not guilty - more likely than average to be found guilty
  • Less likely to be imprisoned - 18% lesser chance
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A reflection of reality?

  • Mayhew et al (1993) = most important factor: youth
  • Official stats are accurate reflection of reality - offending greater among A-C communities, greater proportion of young men
  • Philips and Brown (1998) = those of A-C origin accounted for disproportionately higher number of arrests --> 60% of Black and White, 55% Asians
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Racist police practices?

Reflection of society approach

  • Police drawn from wider society --> some racist officers
  • Police not institutionally racist

Canteen culture

  • Enormous pressures = e.g. working long hours, facing hostility/potential danger
  • Culture developed to deal with pressures
  • Reiner (1992) = thirst for action, cynicism, conservativism, suspicion, macho values, racism
  • Graef (1989) = officers held stereotypical views --> led to stop and searches
  • A-C people 6 times more likely than Whites to be stopped and searched

Institutional racism

  • Macpherson Inquiry (Stephen Lawrence case) = police have 'procedures, practices, culture that excludes/disadvantages non-White people'
  • Normal day-to-day activities of police based upon racist ideas
  • Make assumptions about young Black males and likeliness of offending
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Theorising race and criminality - 1

Left realist approach

  • Lea and Young (1993) = racist practices by police
  • Stats show higher crime rate for street robberies/associated 'personal' crimes by A-C youths
  • Racist British society - young ethnic-minority males economically/socially marginalised
  • Lesser chances of success - sense of relative deprivation
  • Creation of subcultures - lead to higher crime levels, coping with marginalisation/relative deprivation

Capitalism in crisis

  • Hall (1978) = capitalism in crisis - muggins used as scapegoat to divert attention away from real economic problems
  • Media contributed to moral panic, used to justify increasing number of police acting in repressive manner
  • Hall criticised for not making effort to research motiviations/thinking of young A-C males
  • Association between 'criminality and Black youth' continued for over 25 years
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Theorising race and criminality - 2

Cultures of resistance

  • Scraton (1987) = policing/media coverage/political debates centre around issue of 'race' being problem
  • Minority ethnic groups left in significantly worse economic position than white majority since first migrants arrived
  • Cultures of resistance emerged --> crime: form of organised resistance
  • Committing crimes as political act

Exclusion and alternative economies

  • Bourgeois (2002) = ethnographic study of ethnic minority community in New York:
    • Economic exclusion of groups combined with negative social attitudes --> forced to develop 'alternative economy', includes illegal activities (e.g. drug dealing)
    • Dealers become addicted themselves - behaviour destroys families
    • Chaotic violent community = search for dignity in distinctive culture leads to worsening of situation
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Theorising race and criminality - 3

Statistical artefact approach

  • Statistics are misleading
  • Fitzgerald et al (2003) =
    • Street crime related to levels of deprivation/lack of community cohesion - measured by rapid population turnover
    • The higher the levels of deprivation, the higher the levels of crime
    • High rates of ethnic-minority offending directly linked to numbers of young ethnic-minority males - particularly in London
    • Statistic link between higher crime levels and lone-parent families - A-C households more likely to be leaded by lone parent
    • Subculture developed = closely linked with school failure/alienation from school - similar views held by White school-age students doing poorly at school
    • Disproportionate amount of all crime performed by young/educationally disaffected children of all backgrounds
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