Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence



1.  Memorandum submitted by Opinion Leader (Results of Research commissioned by the Home Affairs Committee into Public Perceptions of Young Black People and the Criminal Justice System

1.  INTRODUCTION

1.1  Background

  In March 2006, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee announced that it would be holding an inquiry into the relationship between young black people[1] and the criminal justice system. It is common in the media and elsewhere for a connection to be made between young black people and criminal behaviour. However, the evidence for this connection is contested. The inquiry will seek to establish whether:

    —  Patterns of criminal behaviour amongst young black people differ in any significant way from crime amongst other young people.

    —  There are other possible causes of young black people's overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.

    —  There are any specific policies required to tackle this overrepresentation.

  The inquiry will focus particularly on public perceptions of criminality among young black people and the reasons for their overrepresentation in the system. The Committee has called for written submissions and is also taking oral evidence from interested individuals and organisations. Attitudinal research has also been commissioned in order to gauge wider public perceptions of young black people's involvement in crime.

1.2  Objectives

  Opinion Leader was commissioned by the Home Affairs Committee to conduct the attitudinal research on public perceptions of young black people and the criminal justice system. The specific objectives of the research were to find out:

    —  How the public perceives the involvement of young black people in the criminal justice system.

    —  The perceived reasons for the degree and nature of young black people's involvement in the criminal justice system.

    —  The main factors that shape public perceptions of crime in general and young black people's involvement in crime.

    —  How perceptions differ between people of different genders, ages, ethnicities, socio-economic group and geographic areas.

1.3  Approach

  Qualitative research, comprised of focus groups, was the chosen method. Qualitative research can provide deeper insights into perceptions and the factors which are influencing views. Focus groups allow participants to share their experiences and provide the opportunity for researchers to explore any differences in attitudes.

  A total of 10 x 90 minute focus group discussions, each with 7-8 participants, were held in England and Wales between the 6 and 22 November 2006. The group programme was designed to cover a broad cross-section of the population, including different genders, ages, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds and geographic areas. This enabled detailed exploration of how perceptions vary between different population groups. The full sample matrix is shown below:


Location
Ethnic diversity
Age
Ethnicity
Socio-economic
grouping (SEG)

London
Highest ethnic diversity
16-24
White British
High (BC1C2)
London
Highest ethnic diversity
16-24
Minority ethnic
Mixed (BC1C2DE)
London
Highest ethnic diversity
25-49
Minority ethnic
Mixed (BC1C2DE)
London
Highest ethnic diversity
25-59
Black British
Mixed (BC1C2DE)
Nottingham
High ethnic diversity
16-24
Black British
Mixed (BC1C2DE)
Nottingham
High ethnic diversity
50+
White British
Low (DE)
Cardiff
Moderate ethnic diversity
16-24
White British
Low (DE)
Cardiff
Moderate ethnic diversity
50+
White British
High (BC1C2)
Bath
Low ethnic diversity
50+
White British
Mixed (BC1C2DE)
Bath
Low ethnic diversity
25-49
White British
Mixed (BC1C2DE)


  A topic guide was used to guide the discussion and this is appended to this report. In brief, the groups commenced with a "warm up" where participants discussed their perceptions of crime and criminality generally before exploring issues of age and race. This helped to determine where age and race fit spontaneously in people's perceptions and ensure that participants were in no way led. The discussion then covered the following four areas:

    —  Perceptions of who are victims of crime and of who commits crime: Probing on age, ethnicity, gender and socio-economic factors, and exploring whether these factors differ for different types of crime.

    —  Perceptions of young black people in particular: General impressions of this demographic group, perceptions of extent of criminality within this group, perceived variations within it and the extent to which involvement of young black people in crime is an issue of concern.

    —  What factors are perceived to have a bearing on young black people's involvement in crime: eg cultural, socio-economic, family background etc.

    —  Where these impressions come from: For example, word of mouth, personal experience, media portrayal, access to statistics etc. We recognise that this element is crucial and was fully drawn out in the discussions.

  The following enabling techniques were used to help uncover deeper or subconscious feelings:

    —  Photo matching—we showed groups photos of people of different ages and ethnicities (and gender, socio-economic background etc) and asked them to select likely victims and offenders.

    —  Vignettes—we gave groups short stories describing a particular crime taking place. We asked them to describe what types of people might be involved, why they became involved, and what would have prevented them being involved.

  At the end of the discussion participants were given postcards to write key messages about the issue of young black people and crime to the Home Affairs Committee. This device allowed each participant to sum up their individual thoughts and priorities at the conclusion of the group sessions.

2.  EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  Crime is something everyone has a point of view on. People draw their perceptions from what they have seen, heard and sometimes experienced in their local communities, and high profile cases reported in the national media also contribute to the overall public perception of crime.

  However, a key finding from this research is that while the media often makes a connection between young black people and criminal behaviour, this link does not feature strongly in the public's consciousness.

  Instead, the public perceives that young people of all racial backgrounds are more likely to be perpetrators (and victims) of crimes. In addition, the public sees men as more likely to commit crimes than women, although the perception is that the gender gap is closing. People from lower socio-economic backgrounds and who live in deprived areas, are seen as being more likely to commit certain types of crimes. However, the view is that, with increased peer pressure and consumerism, crimes these days can be committed by people from any socio-economic group.

  Race was mentioned spontaneously in discussion with respect to certain specific types of crime, such as gang-related crime. However, a small minority of older white British participants did spontaneously mention race as a factor in a broader range of crimes.

  When shown statistics demonstrating an overrepresentation of black people in the criminal justice system, most people accept that this is the case even though they had not been conscious of this. They question why this situation has arisen and particularly to what extent the overrepresentation is due to young black people actually committing more crime and to what extent it is due to this group being particularly and unduly targeted by the criminal justice agencies.

  People perceive there to be many possible causes for young black people's overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. Some are perceived to be the same reasons as would apply to young people of any racial background. These include consumerism and Americanisation of cultural values, peer pressure, family breakdown, lack of discipline, boredom, and the availability of drugs and alcohol. Additional racially-specific factors mentioned include racism, inequality, lack of integration and disaffection of young black men in particular.

  People tend to suggest measures which could tackle the representation of all young people in the criminal justice system rather than young black people in particular. There is a strong focus on deterrents and discipline, although measures to combat boredom are also seen to be important. The message from black people themselves is that positive rather than punitive measures need to be taken, particularly in the areas of education and employment.

  Overall, crime and criminality are seen as complex, multi-faceted issues, and there is reluctance to see one specific audience being drawn out for special attention. Most are keen to reject racial stereotyping with respect to young black people's involvement in the criminal justice system. The public particularly wants to avoid the risk of making a particular racial group a scapegoat.

3.  MAIN FINDINGS

  This chapter contains an analysis of the main findings. The analysis is organised into four sections which reflect the main areas of investigation in the study:

    1.  General perceptions of crime.

    2.  Perceptions of perpetrators and victims of crime.

    3.  Perceptions of young black people and crime.

    4.  Exploration of potential solutions.

3.1  General perceptions of crime

  Key highlights in this section:

    —  The public perception of crime is based largely on what people have seen, heard about and sometimes experienced in their local community.

    —  People are most aware of volume crimes, however muggings and menacing behaviour are also frequently mentioned.

    —  People acknowledge that very serious crimes (murders, gun crime etc) are far less common, however high profile cases reported in the national media also contribute to the public's overall perception of crime.

    —  There is a general feeling that crime is getting worse, even though some are aware that statistics do not support this.

    —  Concern about crime can have a direct impact on people's lives—some have altered their behaviour to lower their risk of becoming a victim.

    —  Those with families show concern particularly for their children and see young people as being more at risk.

  As a warm up, and to contextualise later discussions, groups commenced with a general discussion of how people feel about crime and criminality.

3.1.1  Types of crime

  Across all locations, the most frequently mentioned types of crime perceived to be taking place locally are:

    —  Theft and robbery

    —  Some participants reported multiple experiences of having their cars broken into.

    —  Those in urban centres stated that they frequently witness shoplifting taking place.

    —  Several had been mugged for their personal possessions (mobiles, ipods etc) or know people close to them who had been mugged.

    —  Anti-social behaviour

    —  Graffiti and vandalism are visible signs.

    —  People also frequently refer to drunk and disorderly behaviour.

    —  Menacing behaviour and random acts of violence

    —  Intimidation and bullying was a theme in discussing crime, particularly amongst younger age groups and parents.

    —  There was a perception that motiveless crime and random acts of violence are on the increase.

    —  Drug use/drug dealing

    —  Flagrant drug use and drug dealing in certain areas has led some to perceive that the issue is not taken seriously by the police.

    —  Younger groups tend to be more tolerant of drug related activity, with some saying that the use of "softer" drugs like marijuana should be decriminalised.

    —  Most felt that drug activity fuels other volume crimes such as theft.

  People recognise that, with the exception of muggings and assaults, the incidence of more serious crimes is far lower than volume crimes. Nonetheless, serious crimes tend to have a high media profile, and people are particularly conscious of stories of murder and of crimes involving weapons such as guns and knives.

    "A lot of shooting in the last eight years or so, quite a lot of shooting."

    Black British, 25-49, London

    "There's not that much crime but we do get a bit down by Kensal Rise, there's been a few gun shootings and a stabbing down at Kilburn."

    Other ethnic minority, 25-49, London

    "You've got stabbings and shooting and that."

    Other ethnic minority, 16-24, London

  Later results show crimes involving weapons tend to be associated more with young black people than with other groups, due to the perceived correlation with (black) gang culture emanating from the US.

3.1.2  Source of perceptions of crime

  The public perception of crime is based largely on what people have directly witnessed, heard about, and sometimes personally experienced in their local community.

  Physical signs that people referred to in the groups include:

    —  Examples of vandalism and graffiti.

    —  Groups of youths "hanging around" on the street and acting in an intimidating way.

    —  People openly using and distributing drugs.

    —  Increased theft prevention measures in shops.

    —  Bars and restaurants, as well as clubs, now needing to hire security staff.

  In addition to these visible signs, several in the groups had been a victim of volume crime and most knew others who have been a victim. Participants frequently repeated stories that they had heard from friends, family, neighbours and work colleagues, indicating that word of mouth is a key factor in determining perceptions.

    "This group of boys stopped and asked him for a lighter and he didn't have one on him and they just picked him up and knocked him down the stairs. He was in hospital with stitches."

    White British, 16-24, BC1C2, London

    "A few of my friends' daughters have been attacked for things, one of them was actually attacked and filmed on a mobile phone as well."

    White British, 30-50, BC1C2, Cardiff

  Reality television also plays a role in forming people's views on street crimes and anti-social behaviour beyond people's own local area.

    "Street Crime—which I like—shows towns in different parts of England . . . the police actually going out and stopping fights and drunkenness and bad language and all that."

    White British, 50+, BC1C2, Cardiff

  The public finds out about serious crime mainly from the media. People acknowledge that TV news, and local and national newspapers, play an important part in raising public awareness of serious yet infrequent crimes. In addition, the London groups referred to the yellow police signs appealing for help and information. Without these signs, people would not necessarily have been aware of the more serious crimes committed on their own doorstep.

    "It's not unusual to see one of those yellow boards saying `man shot' or `person abducted'. There are more of those things around my area."

    Black British, 25-49, London

3.1.3  Levels of fear and insecurity

  Most perceive that crime is on the rise, even though some are aware that the statistics do not support this.

  That said, in general, people do not consciously fear becoming a victim of a serious crime. They rationalise that statistically their chances of being a victim of this sort of crime is low, and it is not something that they think about day-to-day.

  However, they do see themselves as being potentially at risk of a volume or street crime. Concern about these sorts of crimes can have a direct impact on people's lives—some reporting having altered their behaviour (eg method of transport, places they visit etc) to lower their risk.

  Older people, women and people from higher socio-economic backgrounds tend to be relatively more concerned about crime, although it is high on the agenda for all population groups. People with families are particularly concerned for their children and see young people as being more at risk than other groups.

3.2  Perpetrators and victims of crime

  Key highlights in this section:

    —  People perceive that young people are more likely both to be victims and perpetrators of crime.

    —  There is a perception that men are more likely to be involved in crime, although people see that females are increasingly taking part in criminal activities.

    —  People from deprived backgrounds are seen as more likely to commit certain types of crimes.

    —  People do not spontaneously associate race with criminality, with the exception of gang-related and gun crime, which tends to be associated more with black communities.

  People were asked to nominate which types of people are more likely to be victims and perpetrators of crime. This questioning was unprompted initially and then a number of specific scenarios were introduced to encourage people to think about a range of different offences. A range of photos were also used as stimulus material.

3.2.1  Perpetrators of crime

  Most people are able to identify the population groups they feel would be more likely to commit a crime. The determining factors are seen to be:

    —  Age.

    —  Gender.

    —  Deprivation.

  People perceive race to be less of a determining factor and, in general, race is only cited in relation to specific crimes.

Age

  Across all groups, the consensus is that young people (teens through to early 20s) are most likely to be the perpetrators of volume and street crime. Some claim to know pre-teens who are committing crimes and younger people have experienced crimes perpetrated by their peers taking place within and around the school environment.

    "When I was 12/13 I had pogs and stickers. Now they're exchanging death videos."

    White British, 16-24, DE, Cardiff

    "The younger kids; much younger than us. About 13, 14 or 15. They know they can get away with it and they won't go to go to jail."

    White British, 16-24, DE, Cardiff

    "Muggings are quite high as well but it's usually young people mugging each other."

    Other ethnic minority, 25-49, London

    "I think there is a hierarchy of crime and think mugging might be where it starts ... By 25 is you are still doing crime you are not doing mugging."

    Black British, 25-49, London

Gender

  People perceive males to be more likely to be involved in crime compared to females, however there is a perception that an increasing number of females are now taking part in criminal activities. People refer to the increasing "ladette" culture and some have noticed that gangs now include young women as well as men.

  People perceive males to be most likely to commit crimes of a more serious nature. Young men in particular are perceived to be more likely to behave aggressively and get into altercations, and less likely to back down when arguments escalate.

    Scenario: It is 3 am on Saturday morning. The streets are crowded with people coming out of nearby bars and clubs. An argument breaks out between two people and one of them stabs the other

    "We thought it was two men, late twenties to thirties, probably very drunk. If they can afford to be drinking until 3 am they must be employed and therefore we think well dressed. I would think them working rather than middle class. I think lots of 20-30 year old men have a big hormone thing going on. They feel that they still have to show their masculinity or power".

    White British, 25-49, Bath

Deprivation

  There is a perception that deprivation increases the likelihood of young people turning to crime. It is thought that young people living in deprived circumstances have most to gain by turning to crime as a means of acquiring money and possessions. People living in deprived areas are also felt to lack positive role models and opportunities.

  However, pressures of consumerism and peer groups are not seen to be confined to lower socio-economic groups, and in this context it is perceived that even people from more affluent backgrounds can be enticed into crime.

Visual cues

  The public tends to rely on visual cues to help them judge whether a person is more likely to be a perpetrator of crime. As part of the discussion, participants were shown a selection of photographs of different types of people. Across all groups, the most selected photos were of:

    —  A young man wearing a hooded top ("hoodie").

    —  A young man with a shaven head ("skinhead").

  Both these photos were of young white men.

  People acknowledge that this may be a stereotypical assumption which is unfair in some instances. But they also conclude that in most cases it will only be someone who wants to be intimidating or considered a criminal who would choose to look like that.

    "Anyone with a hoodie is automatically in there [considered a perpetrator]."

    White British, 16-24, BC1C2, London

    "I'd be more wary of a hoodie walking towards me than a man in a suit."

    White British, 50+, DE, Nottingham

Race

  Most do not think that race determines who is more or less likely to be a perpetrator of crime in general. Black and minority ethnic participants not surprisingly most strenuously believe this. However, it is a generally held view that young white men are just as likely to be perpetrators of crime as young black men.

    "I'm answering from my own personal experience and people are just people, everyone is just the same, it's not black people, white people, Asian, like it's depending on their circumstances and their education then that's just they are what they know."

    Black British, 16-24, Nottingham

    "There's as many white people committing crime in these areas as there are black"

    White British, 50+, DE, Nottingham

  However, a small minority (mainly older people living in ethnically homogenous areas) perceive there to be a link between race and criminal behaviour in general. Their perception is that young black and ethnic minority young people are responsible for most of the crime that takes place in their local area. This perception appears to be based on hearsay, claimed experience and witnessing changing demographics in the area eg expanding Somali community in Cardiff.

    "I have a friend who lives in Grange Town and he is 82 and terrified. Two of his friends have been mugged by Somalis. I do think Somalis are more likely to be committing crimes."

    White British, 50+, BC1C2, Cardiff

    "Virtually everyone of my mixed heritage students has been arrested, almost guaranteed and often repeatedly."

    White British, 50+, Bath

    "There's a lot of them [Somalis] now. You see them hanging around the centre; it can be very frightening, intimidating."

    White British, 50+, BC1C2, Cardiff

  There is also a wider perception of a link between race and certain types of crime. In particular, young black men tend to more associated than other groups with gang-related and gun crime.

    "What we see in the media where people are shot in the streets, they do tend to be black. I am sure it is not just them..."

    White British, 50+, BC1C2, Cardiff

    "I am not racist in any way but it is reported as black gangs, black youths. There are very, very little white reports of gangland killings and shootings in this country. I think they do go on and I probably know they do go on but are they reported as much?"

    White British, 25-49, Bath

    "It is more black on black with the shootings."

    Black British, 25-49, London

3.2.2  Victims of crime

  Age and gender are also seen to be primary influences of how likely an individual is to be a victim of crime. Again, people perceive race to be a lower order factor.

Age

  A clear consensus from groups was that young people are most likely to be a victim of crime. They believe that young people are more likely to possess sought after items such as iPods, mobile phones and branded clothes. Also, young people are thought to spend more time out of the home and take fewer precautions regarding their personal safety. Those aged between 11 and 16 are seen as most vulnerable as they are less able to defend themselves.

  The elderly are also considered more likely to be a victim of volume crime and mugging. Participants recognise that they are less able to protect themselves, however, they are thought unlikely to possess the items most sought after by young perpetrators.

    "I would definitely say it is younger people because you are more likely to get into a row if you are younger."

    White British, 16-24, BC1C2, London

    "Always the elderly and the young I think."

    Black British, 16-24, Nottingham

    "My 12 year old nephew was mugged but I think he is so young, he didn't see he was being mugged. He just saw it as a big boy asking for some money. You know, God bless him."

    White British, 50+, Bath

Gender

  Participants across all groups think that young men are more likely to be a victim of crime. Participants say that young men are more careless of their personal safety than women and that their bravado can place them in more dangerous situations.

    "Muggings and gang fights are between blokes."

    White British, 16-24, BC1C2, London

    "Women will usually walk home in pairs."

    White British, 16-24, DE, Cardiff

Location

  On the whole, participants believe that volume crime and street crime is far less likely to occur in affluent areas. Participants believe that police are more responsive in these areas, more people use cars rather than public transport or walking, and people in more affluent areas take greater care of their personal property.

  Participants in Bath believe that the size and rural location of their city means they are less likely to be a victim of crime than if they lived in nearby Bristol. They claim that people are more likely to know each other, thereby making it difficult for a criminal to evade detection.

    "This is actually in a rural area, I haven't heard of anybody being attacked in Bath."

    White British, 25-49, Bath

    "This is perhaps looking back 20 years, but I feel safer here than when I lived in Nottingham and Plymouth."

    White British, 50+, Bath

Behaviour

  The way a person looks or behaves is seen to have a potential impact on their likelihood of becoming a victim. People who look scared or vulnerable are more likely, in particular, to attract the attention of perpetrators. People putting themselves in vulnerable situations, such as using their mobiles alone or at night, is also seen to be a contributing factor.

    "A big thing would be how people act, their posture and attitude."

    White British, 16-24, BC1C2, London

    "You get a small little wimp of a chap and he is there with his mobile phone and something else. A big bloke just says `ah, they're mine'. He doesn't stand a chance."

    White British, 50+, DE, Nottingham

    "Like if you've got your handbag wide open or if you are not paying attention to what you are doing."

    White British, 16-24, BC1C2, London

Ethnicity

  No groups make any spontaneous racial generalisations regarding who is more likely to be a victim of crime. However, when working through a set of scenarios, white British participants generally selected images of young black people as the more likely victims of gun crime. One of the black British participants also referred to race when describing the victim of a mugging scenario that takes place in a predominantly black area:

    "It's going to be middle class white or young white or weak looking white."

    Black British, 25-49, London

3.3  Perceptions of young black people and crime

  Key highlights in the section:

    —  People are reluctant to generalise about race and crime.

    —  In response to the statistics, questions are raised about the extent to which the overrepresentation is due to victimisation compared to because they were actually committing more crime.

    —  Young white people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and those who live in ethnically diverse areas, are particularly critical of the link as it does not reflect what they see happening in their local areas.

    —  Many question why the focus is so narrow when the people perceive the issue to be much broader.

  Participants were told part way through the groups that the main focus of the research was to understand what they thought about the issue of young black people and crime. It was also explained that there was an inquiry taking place to examine this issue.

  Initially, many were uncomfortable about talking about young black people and crime. Black groups expressed concern that the research may be discriminatory towards black people. Other racial groups were concerned that by making comments they may be construed as racist. However, on further discussion, people opened up more and gave more considered reactions to statistics that were presented to them.

3.3.1  Spontaneous response

  As highlighted in the previous section, with the exception of gang related gun crime, most do not spontaneously think that young black people are significantly more likely to commit crime than other young people.

  Even when directly questioned about this, most people maintain that they do not see race as a key factor when looking at a person's propensity to engage in criminal behaviour.

  Not surprisingly, black and minority ethnic groups feel this most strongly. In Nottingham, where there has been much media coverage around this issue, young black people are particularly sensitive. They feel that young black men are being unduly targeted as criminals.

3.3.2  Reaction to crime statistics

  To highlight the issue of overrepresentation of young black people in the criminal justice system, participants were presented with a set of statistics. Participants were informed that:

    —  Relative to the general population, in 2003-04 Black people were over three times more likely to be arrested than White people. (Asian people's rates were similar to White people).

    —  Black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.

    —  Black people make up 8.8% of arrests but 14% of stop and searches.

    —  Black people make up 6% of 10-17 year olds being supervised by the Youth Offending Teams (2004-05)—but only 2.7% of the population.

    —  Black men account for 10.3% of the overall prison population but only 2.2% of the total UK population.

    —  Young black people (including mixed black and white) make up over half the children living in poverty.

    —  Young black people are more likely to live in lone parent families (56%):

    —  Asians 16.6%.

    —  Mixed ethnicities 46%.

    —  Whites 25%.

    —  Half or more young black men (aged 16-24) are not in full time work.

  Most people accept the statistics, but there is consensus that the overrepresentation of young black people in the criminal justice system is not clear cut. Both black and white groups thought that the statistics risked over-simplifying the situation and concentrating too much on race compared to other factors (age, family background, economic means etc.) The statistics could also be read in two ways:

    —  Young black people are committing more crimes.

    —  Young black people are overrepresented because they are unduly targeted.

  However, some young white participants living in ethnically diverse areas do not believe the data as they do not reflect their own experience.

    "There are Somalis that do cause problems and then I have a lot of Somali mates who don't cause problems. I know a few Asian boys that do cause problems and I know a few Asian mates that don't. ... You can't blame one person because of race."

    White British, 16-24, DE, Cardiff

    "I'm really shocked about the black thing, to be honest."

    White British, 16-24, DE, Cardiff

  Black people themselves tend not to be surprised by the statistics. They are more concerned that the reasons (particularly racism and discrimination) should be fully explored, that young black people should not be treated as scapegoats, and that appropriate solutions should be found.

    "The first five [statistics] I could answer by saying the police have already admitted to being institutionally racist so those statistics are bound to be like that."

    Black British, 25-49, London

    "If you're looking for a certain thing, if you're for a black person to arrest, you're going to find a way to arrest them."

    Black British, 16-24, Nottingham

    "And if they're being stopped and searched so many more times how come they [black people] only make up so much of the prison population, should you they [police] not be going for the people who make more, the majority of the prison population."

    Black British, 16-24, Nottingham

3.3.3  Factors that shape perceptions regarding young black people and crime

  For those living in ethnically diverse areas, personal experience and word of mouth are key factors shaping people's perceptions of young black people and crime.

    "I know black people who are stopped by the police because the police just pick on black people."

    White British, 50+, DE, Nottingham

  More generally, the media is cited as a key source of information. There is some perception that the media can be gratuitous in linking race to the crime where the perpetrator is black, when the same connection would not necessarily be made for a crime committed by a white person.

    "I mean growing up reading the media everyday, a black man has done this, a black man has done that, everyone is going to think every black man's a criminal."

    Other ethnic minority, 16-24, London

    "All the high profile crime that is on the TV at the moment—they are all black people. So we are being brainwashed in a way."

    White British, 50+, BC1C2, Cardiff

  Some black people interviewed felt that the media were systemically biased in their portrayal of black people and crime.

    "They [the media] don't say in the news, `another person shot another person', it's `a black person shot a black person.' They accentuate the colour before they accentuate the actual crime itself."

    Black British, 16-24, Nottingham

    "They [the media] say black on black violence, I've never heard white on white violence, I've never heard that term in my life. It's like when you read, say for example the Sun, if you don't see the colour black then you know the person's white. They'll only mention the person's ethnicity if he's black or Asian."

    Other ethnic minority, 16-24, London

3.3.4  Perceived reasons for young black people's involvement in crime

  Key highlights in this section:

    —  People perceive that the causes of all young people's involvement in crime are complex and interrelated.

    —  Key factors mentioned include consumerism, hip hop culture which glamorises crime, family breakdown, lack of discipline, boredom, and the availability of drugs and alcohol.

    —  The causes of young black people being involved in crime are seen to be partly the same reasons as for all young people.

    —  Additional perceived factors that people perceive include institutional racism, deprivation, inequality, lack of integration and disaffection.

  Participants were asked to explain why young black people are represented more highly within the criminal justice system. As explained in previous sections participants think that many of the issues affecting young black people relate to all young people regardless of ethnicity. They identify several factors that they believe are having a negative impact on today's young and ultimately influencing criminal behaviour:

    —  Consumerism and popular culture.

    —  Family breakdown.

    —  Lack of discipline.

    —  Boredom.

    —  Increase in availability of drugs and alcohol.

  However, in addition to these factors participants identify several other interrelated issues that they think explain the condition of young black boys and men specifically:

    —  Institutional racism.

    —  Social and economic deprivation.

    —  Lack of provision within the education system for young black people.

    —  Lack of male mentors.

    —  Lack of opportunity in the work place.

    —  Lack of integration.

    —  Disaffection.

Consumerism and popular culture

  Older people believe that young people today are growing up in an age that prioritises consumerist values and instant gratification. They claim that it is not surprising that young people no longer seem to want to work and earn what they have. They propose that for some young people the need for "must have" items such as ipods and the latest fashion is so strong that they would rather steal than to go without.

  Hip hop culture (most often represented by American rappers) is also identified as a key factor in turning more young people towards crime. Young and older groups alike believe that hip hop glamourises law breaking, drugs and gun crime, and that it encourages young people to act in anti-social ways. As will be shown in a later section, young black boys are seen as being particularly susceptible to this imported culture, but the influence of hip hop is perceived to have transcended race.

    "I mean you see 50 Cent now on the telly and all with his bandanna on. He's with his gun and that. So he's obviously going to affect the minds of youngsters round thinking `yes I can be like that'. Walk round with your hood up; walk round with a knife and things like that."

    White British, 16-24, DE, Cardiff

    "I think it's to do with society as well, you see everyone is having this ipod and everyone always has the newest phone. Children can gain anything just by stealing off other children. I think society and the pressures of people having all these things have led to an increase in robbing."

    White British, 16-24, BC1C2, London

Family breakdown and lack of discipline

  Many, especially those in the 50+ age group, feel that the breakdown of the traditional family unit has also contributed to the perceived increase in crime amongst the young.

  There is a general feeling that lack of discipline inside the home is also contributing to young people being involved in crime. People believe that children are too often allowed to make their own decisions and are left to their own devices without adequate supervision. Popular TV programmes like "Supernanny" reinforce these perceptions.

    "Some parents don't really care what their children are doing at night, so long as they are not bothering them."

    White British, 50+, BC1C2, Cardiff

  White British (especially the 50+ age group and high socio-economic groups) feel that lack of discipline outside of the home further adds to the problem of youth crime. They refer to what they see as the lack of discipline practised in schools and inadequate punishment for young offenders.

    "Schools can't touch children today ... If you don't have discipline at a young age you are not going to have it when you are 20 or 30."

    White British, 50+, BC1C2, Cardiff

    "It is discipline—the parents. Look at the kids ... 17 or 18 years old, their parents are 32, 33, young British born... it is just a lack of discipline."

    Black British, 25-49, London

Boredom

  Both older and younger participants claim that young people, particularly younger teens, are committing crimes not so much for financial gain as for simply something to do. They believe that random acts of violence have become a source of entertainment, with young people filming their criminal activity and sending it to one another. Having insufficient resources and activities in local communities is seen to be contributing to boredom and disaffection which can lead to crime.

    "I think that kids are being deprived of other resources like youth clubs and other places to go."

    Black British, 25-49, London

    "Find a way to keep children of 13-18 off the streets so that they have something to do that they enjoy doing."

    White British, 50+, BC1C2, Cardiff

Increase in availability of drugs and alcohol

  Drugs are seen as a strong factor driving street crime. There is a perception that young people's involvement with drugs is increasing, both as users and dealers.

    "I think at the heart of it [all crime] there is drug dealing or there are drugs."

    Black British, 25-49, London

    "Well generally the thieving and the stealing etc is done because of the drugs. So it goes like hand in hand really."

    White British, 50+, DE, Nottingham

  A number of additional factors are perceived to apply to young black people's involvement in crime.

Institutional racism

  Black and minority ethnic groups, and a number of white people, feel that institutional racism is one reason why young black people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Ten years on from the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, there is a feeling that nothing much has changed.

    "Police have already admitted to being institutionally racist so the statistics are bound to look like that."

    Black British, 25-49, London

    "Have you got an objective police force? Have you got an objective society?"

    White British, 50+, BC1C2, Cardiff

  Several from black and minority ethnic groups, and also some white people living in racially heterogeneous areas, report that they have directly witnessed the undue targeting of young black people by the police. Many had heard stories of a young black person being stopped and searched, apparently unnecessarily, by the police. Black and ethnic minority people also believe that black people are more likely to be given custodial sentences than white people who are charged for the same sort of crime. In addition to these first hand experiences, perceptions of institutional racism are often attributed to the belief that the police do not support the black community. Black British people refer to the Stephen Lawrence enquiry by way of example.

    "They have already got a magnifying glass looking over black boys and they're going to get arrested. They [black men] are not going to get cautioned, they are going to be DNA'd."

    Black British, 25-49, London

    "I think the majority of the police are white and that people are more comfortable with people who are like themselves, so obviously if you're a black person you're more inclined to be stopped and searched or arrested just because you're different from them."

    Black British, 16-24, Nottingham

    "My son, he went down to Plymouth, he is Black, and he got robbed. He confronted the robbers and he frightened them off. They were indigenous people from that neighbourhood. They [the robbers] went to the police saying my son actually physically beat them up and the Custody Sergeant took the indigenous people's side."

    Other ethnic minority, 25-49, London

    "My son got stopped by the police once and he is a good guy, honestly he really is and they stopped him because he looked like someone else! That's racist."

    Black British, 25-49, London

Deprivation

  Participants across the groups identify that black people are more likely to live in the most deprived, urban areas of the country. Black children growing up in these areas are perceived to struggle to achieve in a context of deprivation, poorer quality of education and less access to developmentally important activities such as sports and drama.

    "It's a cycle as well, you know, because it's so hard to get out of the poverty cycle. And it just keeps going on, it's recurring. And if they deal with that issue then that in turn will help deal with other issues. It may help with crime, it may help with employment."

    Black British, 16-24, Nottingham

    "You are going to find a lot more crime being committed in inner city areas and that is where black people live, where the deprivation is and those two things are obviously linked."

    White British, 25-49, Bath

    "Asians and blacks move into areas where poverty is rife. They don't go into an areas where it is really good class of living."

    White British, 50+, DE, Nottingham

Lack of provision within the education system for young black people

  A number of people, both from black and other minority ethnic groups, perceive that the school curriculum does not sufficiently incorporate the experiences of black people. Young black people hold this view most strongly. In one of the groups, for example, people mentioned that children are not taught about the contribution of black people to history and the world. This is felt to result in young black people leaving school with no sense of black achievements and no sense about their place in the world and society.

    "Trevor Phillips—he was saying that to some extent it is a lack of relevance to the curriculum, so that might be a factor."

    White British, 25-49, Bath

    "When I was young I went to a centre because they [the school] said I couldn't behave at school ... at the centre I had this old white woman—you see it has nothing to do with colour—as a young women she had gone out with a black man and knew about all the apartheid and things like that. I learned about things like Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X as well as [Martin Luther] King as well as [King] Henry or King Arthur and all those kinds of things and I came out with more things than I would have done in school."

    Black British, 25-49, London

  There is also a view amongst black people that many teachers do not know how to motivate or relate to young black people.

    "I notice that young black boys get excluded from school very easily."

    Black British, 25-49, London

    "Some teachers are so old fashioned and so past it they are not even ready to address the issues, they don't care."

    Black British, 25-49, London

    "I think it's about black people ourselves, going into positions where we can influence ... then it does go back to education again; and I think it goes back to having options in education as well."

    Black British, 16-24, Nottingham

Lack of male mentors

  A lack of positive male mentors for young black men is identified by some as a factor. The main black male success stories are seen to be sportsmen, musicians and rappers, but there is a lack of black male mentors in other fields, such as medicine, politics and the civil service. There is also a perception that young black people are more likely to grow up in single parent families without a father figure.

    "When I was growing up I had Mohammad Ali. He was the only black man on TV. Now they have got Snoop Doggy Dog and the rap stars... all shooting each other."

    Black British, 25-49, London

    "There are not many black young men who are mentors."

    Other ethnic minority, 25-49, London

Lack of opportunity in the work place

  Unequal opportunities in the workplace are seen as another reason why young black men are more likely to turn to crime. Black people themselves cite numerous examples of discrimination when looking for work. There is a perception that young black people do not aspire towards white collar employment as they feel they are unlikely to succeed in achieving this. Once in employment, black people identify a glass ceiling above and they will struggle to be promoted.

    "I have always known you have got the white person and you have got to be higher than that person. You have to jump."

    Black British, 25-49, London

    "Even now I apply for jobs and stuff like that, if you get a black man applying for a job and a white man, they give it to the white man."

    Other Ethnic Minority, 16-24, London

  Some people from other ethnic backgrounds are also conscious of discrimination faced by black people.

    "Most of the young black kids that I know have got jobs very, very similar to the white kids working in Sainsbury, Home Base, fast foods etcetera but the problem is that the white kids will leapfrog over them and will be going to college, will be getting proper trades and professions."

    White British, 50+, Bath

    "If it is meant to be that we all have equal rights now, no discrimination with age, colour and whatever why is it that most people in big companies are white."

    White British, 16-24, DE, Cardiff

Lack of integration

  A perceived lack of integration between different racial groups is also perceived to be an underlying factor in some areas. This separation is seen to contribute to a feeling of "otherness" and of mutual suspicion.

  Some white participants in Cardiff perceive that the local Somali community have self segregated themselves and have not sufficiently adapted to the British way of life.

  Black people also point out that race segregation is also something that government contributes to. For example, in Nottingham black people tend to be housed in the most deprived "black" estates.

    "I think now they're segregated, everything's segregated, it seems as though its not but the country still is segregated and the housing communities are segregated. You create negativity and it's like isolation as well."

    Black British, 16-24, Nottingham

Disaffection amongst young black men

  The statistics and the discussion on causal factors also opened up a debate about whether the disaffection of young black men could be another contributing factor to their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.

  Older white British people say that young black men seem more defensive, acting like they have a "chip on their shoulder". They go on to say that it is this attitude that makes young black men less approachable and could perhaps explain why it is harder for young black men to find employment. They debate whether it is this "attitude" that leads police to target them.

    "It's a big chip—a lot of them have got chips on their shoulder and I am sad to say that."

    White British, 50+, BC1C2, Cardiff

    "Well, actually, I think they're stopping black men more than white is because of the attitude—the way they present themselves—they way they're walking through a town. They're going to get them more. They stick together more—in threes and fours, and then—the dress is sort of more uniform."

    White British, 50+, DE, Nottingham

  While not accepting the above characterisation of young black men, older black people say that young black men have to deal with certain issues that could explain any perceived attitudinal perceptions. They argue that young black men in today's society have little power, respect and authority and they are most often talked about in the context of crime and failure. Black people say that the only way that many young black men believe they can derive respect from (white) people is by demanding it through a show of force and intimidation.

    "When you [young black man] get to a certain age you have to `front up' and show you are the man. But that just sends the signal that `this guy is trouble."

    Black British, 25-49, London

    "When I came over here I went from a good boy, to trying to fit into the crowd so that I could hang out. All of a sudden what is bad is forgotten about. It is about fitting in to the crowd being `a man'."

    Other ethnic minority, 25-49, London

    "I work at Citibank and I was trying to get through the barriers in the entrance. This guy came up to me, he goes, `can you let my colleagues through?' thinking I'm a security guard. I'm like, `No I am not the security guard.' So it is just that in general people in this country look at a black man and think you can't be successful."

    Other ethnic minority, 25-49, London

4.  EXPLORATION OF POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS

  Key highlights in this section:

    —  Suggested solutions focus on the overrepresentation of young people in the criminal justice system and not just the overrepresentation of young black people.

    —  The message from black people themselves is that positive rather than punitive measures need to be taken, particularly in the areas of education and employment.

  Participants were encouraged to develop solutions to tackle the overrepresentation of young black people in the criminal justice system. A wide variety of solutions were suggested; some were designed to apply to all young people and others were racially specific.

Appropriate deterrents

  A generally held view about criminality overall (even among younger age groups and black groups) is that sentencing is currently too lenient and therefore not a sufficient deterrent. However, this is not perceived to apply particularly to young black people's involvement in crime but across the board.

Promote discipline and guidance

  Another view with respect to crime generally is that a root cause is lack of discipline at home and at school. Some would like parents and teachers to be empowered to apply greater discipline.

  People also identify inadequate parenting as an issue. "Teenage" parenting in particular is seen as something that needs to be addressed. Ideally, people would like to see effort made to discourage teenage pregnancy but failing that, it is felt that young parents should be given more advice and support in bringing up children. Young white participants in London support the Government's idea of super nannies to coach and guide families to bring up children.

    "We have to take responsibility for our youth because if you're saying the system is allowing them to fail then what we are doing as parents and as brothers, sisters, uncles whatever, to prevent that from happening."

    Black British, 25-49, London

    "I heard on the radio that the government are trying to form a massive team of super nannies to like try and deal with kids at an early age ... I thought it was quite a good idea."

    White British, 16-24, BC1C2, London

Activities to combat boredom

  Those in urban areas, particularly from lower socio-economic groups felt that many activities aimed at young people are expensive and beyond the means of many parents. This is perceived to result in boredom and the pursuit of the wrong sort of activities. People would like to see more investment in community resources and activities to keep young people occupied.

    "The lack of like youth clubs and stuff, that's what's causing that because if children had places to go other than the streets yeah then children wouldn't be staying up on the corners until all hours of the night doing nothing and then they see people walking by so they think yeah, come lets rob him."

    Other Ethnic Minorities, 16-24, London

    "Most of them don't mind kicking a ball but wherever you go, no balls, no balls. All the people come out cursing them and they can't go to the parks you've got all the mothers there and in all fairness move on, move on, please there are little kids. They've got no ground."

    White British, 16-24, Cardiff

Positive and prompt response to problems

  Black groups feel that the criminal justice system brands too many "unruly" young men as criminal. They believe that many of the 13-16 year old boys who get involved in crime will probably grow out of their delinquent behaviour by the time they are 18. However, they say that once a young person receives a criminal record and/or goes to jail, it becomes difficult to overcome this.

    "I think even when we were growing up we knew people who did their little thieving and shop lifting and whatever and it was a phase. But it happened and they outgrew it and they never got arrested, they got a caution, they never got arrested and sent to Feltham or whatever it was just a phase, they didn't have their DNA taken for it but now they do. They are not allowed to have those phases."

    Black British, 25-49, London

  Black groups therefore feel that more effort needs to be made to deal with behaviour earlier on. They like the idea of referral units that deal with young offenders but think that they could be rolled out to deal with young people who are showing signs of becoming involved in crime.

    "I think it's great that there is referral units like what you work in however I wish there wasn't a need for the. Trouble starts off with a little itch and if you let that itch turn in to a scar, you deal with it at the earliest possible stage."

    Black British, 25-49, London

Target the issue through education

  Black groups think that effort needs to be made to engage with young black boys in the education system. They believe it is essential that young black people stay and do well in school. They call for more black people to become teachers. They think the exclusion of any pupil, regardless of race, should be used as the option of last resort.

  In terms of the curriculum, participants think that courses that reflect the diversity of the country should be included. In this way, black and other minority groups can learn from, and be inspired by, the experiences and contributions of minority groups in the UK.

    "Everyone needs to play a part ... teachers are going to play a part in a child's life for a certain part of the day."

    Black British, 25-49, London

    "A lot of this is prejudice from some of the teachers like I said earlier on, because they come from middle class backgrounds and they stereotype us already."

    Other Ethnic Minority, 25-49, London

Equal opportunities

  Black and other ethnic minority groups think that companies should be encouraged to hire young black men and that recruitment policies of all companies should be closely monitored.

  Views amongst black and other ethnic minority groups were divided as to whether the government should introduce positive discrimination policies as has been done in some other countries. Some oppose this, believing that no one should be given a job that they are not qualified for. However, others feel the situation is serious enough to warrant more proactive measures.

  Specifically, there is a strong view that young black people need to be recruited into the police force and other criminal justice agencies in greater numbers.

    "You need a lot more policemen who are black."

    White British, 50+, DE, Nottingham

Positive images and role models

  Black and ethnic minority participants believe that more should be done to promote positive images of black people within the media. They want the media to present more "good news stories" involving black people, and particularly black men.

  Similarly, black participants want to see more male mentors providing advice and guidance to young black people. The hope is that young black men can be encouraged and inspired to succeed in life. But also, male mentors can be a source of real support for young black boys, especially those growing up with no fathers. Regardless of ethnicity, all participants think that other role models are needed to combat the negative influence of hip hop and gangster role models.

    "Even documentaries made by black people are negative, they're not about the positive things that black people are doing in the community. Black people that are doing good things in the community are not promoted."

    Black British, 16-24, Nottingham

    "I think (black people) knowing their roots, their backgrounds. You know when we see television they don't want to see the nice—you know (good things happening)."

    Other Ethnic Minority, 25-49, London

Promote racial harmony

  White groups in particular think that more should be done to prevent particular groups of ethnic minorities from becoming isolated from mainstream society, and by extension, mainstream opportunities.

  Older (50+) participants think that integration would be helped by making immigrants take citizenship classes to ensure they understand British values and customs as well as to help them integrate better into society.

    "Instead of putting all black and ethnic people in one area of the city, it would be best to maybe let them live with other cultures where they would have to learn to live with each other."

    White British, 16-24, DE, Cardiff

    "Make them integrate into the English population better, which they don't. They've got to have their own way of life and they sort of come to us but they don't want us to go into their type places."

    White British, 50+, Nottingham

February 2007





1   For the purpose of this inquiry, the Committee is using the ONS Census ethnicity category "Black or Black British", which comprises "Caribbean", "African" and "any other Black background". Back


 
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