Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

12.  Memorandum submitted by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies


  1.1  The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London is an independent charity that informs and educates about all aspects of crime and criminal justice. We provide information, produce research and carry out policy analysis to encourage and facilitate an understanding of the complex nature of issues concerning crime. We are a membership organisation working with practitioners, policy makers, academics and students, the media and voluntary sector, offering a programme of events, publications and online resources. The Centre also publishes the British Journal of Criminology, one of the world's leading academic criminology journals.

  1.2  CCJS believes the Committee is mistaken in restricting its inquiry to solely look at young black people who are categorised by the ONS Census ethnicity category as "Black or Black British". The issues the Committee intends to inquire into are applicable to black and minority ethnic groups in general and not just young black people. For example, latest Home Office figures show that Asian people are twice as likely to be stopped by the police as white people (Home Office, 2006). Research by the Youth Justice Board found that young people of mixed parentage experience disproportionate treatment in terms of higher rates of prosecution and conviction, and they are less likely to receive a pre-court disposal (either a Reprimand or Final Warning) than Black, Asian or White young males (Youth Justice Board 2004). The Committee should widen its inquiry to look at all Black and Minority Ethnic groups.

  1.3  The Committee must also recognise that by deciding to focus on young black people it is taking a controversial and contested stance. Offending rates among African Caribbean young people are difficult to measure, and even harder to interpret, because expectations and standards are subject to hotly debated assumptions about the meaning and significance of race and ethnicity. To propose comparisons between groups based simply or mainly on skin colour prompts many questions about the purpose of the Committee's inquiry and its implications (Gilroy 1987; Bowling and Phillips 2002).

  1.4  The Committee needs to define what it means by "young". It is not clear from the terms of reference issued by the Committee whether or not the inquiry will look only at children under the age of 18 or if it intends to also look at young adults aged 18 to 21 or older. In order to provide a clear focus to the inquiry the Committee needs to clarify this. It is also important for the Committee to recognise that racial discrimination within the criminal justice system is not age specific. As the Committee concluded in its recent inquiry into the Rehabilitation of Prisoners, BME groups of all ages are overrepresented across the criminal justice system. The Committee should therefore not limit its inquiry to only look at "young people".

  1.5  There are a number of factors to be considered in connection with the Committee's inquiry. This submission focuses on areas which CCJS believes should be given particular consideration rather than attempting to provide an exhaustive consideration of all the issues.


  2.1  There is no compelling evidence to suggest that young black people in the UK commit a disproportionate number of crimes simply because of their ethnic background. Instead, the view of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies is that research evidence shows they are more likely to become caught up in the criminal justice system due to their disadvantaged socio-economic status and position within contemporary British society. There is an extensive literature on the social disadvantages experienced by minority ethnic populations that affect children's development and education (Amin et al 1997). It is accepted that black young people face increasing challenges as other groups advance more quickly in their educational achievements. Furthermore, minority groups are clustered in areas of deprivation where facilities are known to be few and services inadequate.

  2.2  There has been a disproportionate focus in the media on violent gun crime and so called black "Yardie Gangs" which gives the impression that young black men are responsible for the majority of gun crime and homicides. Where there are differences in violence between white and black communities these have been found to be linked not so much to family failings or to cultures of irresponsibility as to the restricted options available to young men in the poorest communities (Bellair and McNulty 2005; Parker and Johns 2002). Recent research in the UK has confirmed that homicide rates are associated with areas of poverty (Dorling 2005). Conversely, job accessibility reduces the risk of homicide across racial groups in the US (Parker and Johns 2002). This demonstrates clearly the deep rooted socio-economic factors that are the main drivers behind violent crime rather than race and cultural factors.

  2.3  The Committee should note that the association between socio-economic disadvantage and crime is well established but that it is by no means straightforward. As CCJS' acting director Richard Garside, argued in a recent pamphlet for the Smith Institute:

    "... some poor and disadvantaged people do commit crime because they are poor and disadvantaged. Some of them end up in our prisons and courts as a result. This does not mean that most crime is committed by the poor and disadvantaged. Nor does it mean that disadvantage is the cause of most crime. But some of the grossest victimisations are concentrated among the poorer members of society, and it is reasonable to conclude that the poor will often be perpetrators as well as victims." (Garside, 2006)

  2.4  Young black people, given their predominance within socially deprived communities, are therefore more likely to be both victims and perpetrators of crime. The Committee would be advised to consider the relationship between young black people and the criminal justice system more broadly in terms of both victimisation and criminality.


  3.1  While social factors such as the poverty of minority ethnic groups need to be properly understood, there are factors particular to the criminal justice system that impact on young black people.

  3.2  Fears and suspicion of young black people mean that disproportionate action is taken to report, identify and monitor young black individuals who attract attention. Evidence has been cited in relation to public reporting of crime (FitzGerald and Hale 1996) and to police activity. Relations between black people and the police have been long affected by this phenomenon. Experience of being stopped by police is associated with negative views of the police among black youth (FitzGerald et al 2002). The proportions of young people stopped and searched have recently been compared with the available "street population" (Miller et al 2000; Waddington et al 2004) and it is clear that the young—black, Asian and mixed race, as well as white—are the subjects of searches.

  3.3  In this connection a broader viewpoint is important. The illegal drug trade is a major constituent of the crime problem as officially perceived, as well as a driver of other forms of crime. The Caribbean is a key route for the importation of illegal drugs; therefore processes and systems of interception are likely to affect people of Caribbean origin and bring them into the criminal justice system disproportionately. In addition the imagery of drug misuse—especially of crack cocaine—is known to affect patterns of enforcement (Beckett et al 2005; Newburn et al 2004).

  3.4  The evidence suggests that sections of black youth form a high proportion of the youthful and visible population associated in the police mind with a significant risk of youth crime including drug dealing. The fact that the police operate with these working assumptions is linked to wider fears and prejudices, manifest at all social levels, concerning socially disadvantaged groups.


  4.1  A number of processes lead to the disproportionate involvement of young black people in the criminal justice system. Some are structural linked to criminal justice policy and to the social and geographical distribution of African Caribbean young people. Others appear as a result of fear, prejudice and discrimination that are manifested in the reporting of crime and monitoring of suspects.

  4.2  However, CCJS believes that the broader social and economic context within which crime, criminality and victimisation unfold is fundamental to understanding the relationship between young black people and the criminal justice system. They are disproportionately involved in certain criminal activities that attract media and government attention due to being disproportionately represented amongst the lower socio economic groups within society. In this context effective policies to tackle poverty and social exclusion are vital. Overall, social policy should play a central part in reducing involvement in crime: for example, educational changes that benefit young black people should be designed to create ethnically integrated services that present assured pathways out of poverty, linked to fair recruitment policies. Equally, justice system changes should seek to reduce mistrust and discrimination by setting clear and accountable standards for intervention and case processing.

April 2006

REFERENCES  Amin, K, Drew, D, Fosam, B, Gillborn, D and Demack, S (1997) Black and ethnic minority young people and educational disadvantage. Runnymede Trust.

  Beckett, K, Nyrop, K, Pfingst, L and Bowen, M (2005) "Drug use, drug possession arrests, and the question of race: Lessons from Seattle", Social Problems 52 (3): 419-441.

  Bellair, P and McNulty, T (2005) "Beyond the bell curve: Community disadvantage and the explanation of black-white differences in adolescent violence", Criminology 43 (4): 1135-1168.

  Bowling, B and Phillips, C (2002) Racism, crime and justice. Longman.

  Bradley, S and Taylor, J (2001) Ethnicity, educational attainment and the transition from school. Dept of Economics, University of Lancaster.

  Dorling, D (2005) "Prime suspect: murder in Britain", in Hillyard, P, Pantazis, C, Tombs, S, Gordon, D and Dorling, D Criminal Obsessions: why harm matters more than crime. Crime and Society Foundation.

  FitzGerald, M (2005) "White boys fail too", Guardian 1 June 2005.

  FitzGerald, M and Hale, C (1996) Ethnic minorities: victimisation and racial harassment: findings from the 1988 and 1992 British Crime Surveys. Home Office Research Study 154.

  Gilroy, P (1987) "The myth of black criminality", in Scraton, P ed. Law, Order and the Authoritarian State. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

  Garside, R (2006) "Criminality and social justice: challenging the assumptions", Social Justice: Criminal Justice. Smith Institute.

  Home Office (2006) Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System 2005. London: Home Office.

  Miller, J and MVA (2000) Profiling populations available for stops and searches. Home Office Policing and Reducing Crime Unit.

  Newburn, T, Shiner, M and Hayman, S (2004) "Race crime and injustice? Strip search and the treatment of suspects in custody", British Journal of Criminology 44. 677-694.

  Parker, K and Johns, T (2002) "Urban disadvantage and types of race-specific homicide: assessing the diversity in family structures in the urban context", Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 39.3 277-303.

  Waddington, P, Stenson, K and Don, D (2004) "In proportion: race and police stop and search", British Journal of Criminology 44.6 889-914.

  Youth Justice Board (2004) Differences or Discrimination? London: Youth Justice Board.

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