Representation of Ethnicity Groups in the Criminal Justice System: Discursive Essay

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The official crime statistics monitor crime and provides information on the ethnic distribution in the criminal justice system. These statistics are then used to identify whether fair treatment is displayed across the whole system. The concept of different ethnic groups being overrepresented in the criminal justice system is a commonly debated issue. The aim of this essay is to discuss this ongoing debate as to whether there is an over-representation of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicity) groups across the criminal justice system, specifically focusing on the areas of stop and search, arrest, prosecutions and prisons, and BAME individuals as victims.

Paternoster and Bachman (2018) state that there is a frequent assumption that racial bias constantly reoccurs in the criminal justice system. Because of this assumption, statistics are a common method used by the government to monitor and identify negative relationships between crime and ethnicity. Home Office (2019) states that they place individuals into groups based on their ethnicity so that the data collected can easily be presented. Although the majority of individuals can have their ethnicity easily identified, a small percentage of between 2%-7% are classed as unknown and therefore are not included in the data. This percentage indicates that the ethnic categories provided prove to not accommodate for all (Home Office, 2018)

In addition, Anderson et al (2004) had also identified an inconsistency that occurs through the use of ethnicity grouping which can also make the grouping data unreliable. This is because individuals can self-select their race, meaning they may view themselves as being a certain race. In contrast, other people may perceive that person as being a different race, known as an observer-selected race. So, due to the potential uncertainty of some individual's race, the ethnic grouping can therefore lack reliability due to the difference in how individuals perceive themselves compared to how others view them.

When examining the total population of England and Wales, which is said to be around 56.1 million, a percentage of each ethnic group can be established. Those of white ethnicity make up 86% of the population, compared to Asian ethnicity at 7.5%, black ethnicity at 3.3%, mixed ethnicity at 2.2% and other ethnic groups presenting as 1% (Office for National Statistics (2019a) the different ethnic group percentages are lower compared to those of white ethnicity, a potential reason behind the possible dispute about the overrepresentation of BAME groups, could be due to different areas having a higher population of these groups, therefore, resulting in the higher statistics. Evidence provided by Office for National Statistics (2019b) provides support for this assumption as it established that in London alone, 40.2% of residents self-identified as being from a different ethnic group. So, in relation to the overrepresentation of BAME groups in London specifically, there is a 40.2% chance of the offender being of different ethnicity, therefore, increasing the likelihood of a particular ethnic group being involved in crime.

Stop and search is a necessary police procedure carried out by officers if they have reason to believe the individual in question has been involved in a crime or they believe that they are in possession of an illegal item, such as drugs. Across the United Kingdom, 43 police forces have a duty to record the ethnicity of the individuals they have stopped, to ensure the regularity of different ethnic groups being searched is not discriminatory (Mayor of London, 2018) However, the ongoing argument that BAME groups are continuously over-represented in stop and search statistics is supported by Lammy (cited in Dodd, 2017) who had revealed that the disproportionality that occurs within the criminal justice system begins through the policing method of stop and search, indicating potential corruption within the police. Statistical evidence, provided through various pieces of research, provides an indication that discriminatory stop and searches do occur. Home Office (2019) had identified that amongst ethnic groups, for every 1000 black people, 29 would be stopped and searched compared to a small number of 3 for every 1000 white people. The disproportionality amongst these statistics signifies that black people are overrepresented, due to the statistical results stating that they have a higher possibility of being stopped and searched, compared to those of white ethnicity. Additionally, Kalyan and Keeling (2019) stated that in the year ending March 2018, 282,248 searches were carried out, which decreased by 7% from the previous year. But, the stop and searches of white ethnicity were in favor of this slight decrease as searches fell by 13% compared to only 1% in the stops of BAME groups.

This statistical evidence provides a clear indication that different ethnic groups are experiencing discriminatory actions against them through the means of stop and search, therefore producing an overrepresentation of these groups. The Scarman report investigated the Brixton riots in 1981 and specifically identified that there was an overuse of stop and search powers against those of different ethnicity (Keeling, 2017) The recent data published has significant importance as it suggests that since the Scarman report in 1981, there has been no change in the way police use their stop and search powers and those of different ethnicity are still potentially incorrectly targeted. Black people in particular are identified within the statistics to be of high suspicion to the police.

According to Townsend (2018), those of black ethnicity are stopped and searched 8.4 times the rate of white individuals, a figure which has more than doubled since a well-known published report known as the Macpherson report. This report in particular declared that institutional racism occurs throughout the police. This claim is further supported by Walker and Archbold (2014) where they had also identified that the use of stop and search powers are unfair and discriminatory, which produces the perception of institutional racism. This, therefore, provides an explanation as to why there are higher levels of ethnic groups being searched. Keeling (2017) suggests that the stop and search powers can be highly traumatic and cause an isolating effect on those of different ethnicity, as three-quarters of BAME individuals believe that they are unfairly targeted resulting in them having a lack of trust with the police force. This perceived unfair treatment was investigated by the Macpherson report in 1999 and due to the previous findings in this report it can be proven that there is a continuous negative effect from stop and search due to perceived racism during the policing procedure (Kaylan and Keeling, 2019)

Leading on from stop and search, if the police suspicions turn out to be correct, this can lead to arrest. It can be argued that arrest statistics also show that there is an overrepresentation of BAME groups. According to Home Office (2018), arrest statistics show that those specifically of black ethnicity were three times more likely to be arrested compared to those of white ethnicity, the figures present that for every 1000 people, 38 arrests were made against black individuals compared to 26 arrests for mixed ethnicity individuals and 12 arrests for white individuals. These statistics suggest that there is a continuous issue with those of different ethnicity having an increasingly higher chance of being arrested. Haque (as cited in Bulman, 2017) suggested that the reason behind these significant-high arrest rates against those of black ethnicity are due to the discriminatory police practices since the perception that black individuals produce more criminal behavior.

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Although, this statement of discriminatory practices taking place can be argued to be unreliable. According to Gase et al (2016), the hypothesis of minorities being overrepresented in the criminal justice system is somewhat true, however, the high rates are due to BAME individuals committing more crime, especially violent crime, compared to those of white ethnicity, rather than police discriminatory practices being used. This evidence originates from numerous studies examined by Gase et al (2016) stating that the cause of higher rates of arrest were due to violent crimes and drug offenses. Drug offenses in particular are seen to be a common factor in high arrest rates. Lammy (2017a) states that black adolescents are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug offenses compared to white adolescents. Though some may commit these drug offenses, the disproportionality between black and white ethnicities can be recognized from the various statistics published, which suggests that particularly black ethnic groups are overrepresented within the system due to the increasing figures produced.

Another segment of the criminal justice system is the process of prosecuting an individual and placing them in prison. As well as stop and search and arrest statistics, both prosecution and prison statistics provide information that is associate with the perception of there being an overrepresentation of BAME groups. The Ministry of Justice (2018) identified that overall the number of defendants who were prosecuted for indictable offenses had decreased amongst all ethnic groups. However, black ethnic groups were found to have the smallest decrease of only 6% compared to other ethnic groups having a decrease of between 10-11%. Though there was a significant decrease, it can be argued that this source of information provides evidence that those of black ethnicity are still at a disadvantage. This is due to the slight decrease in prosecutions which can verify that they are experiencing higher possibilities of being prosecuted.

Similarly, Cuthbertson (2017) also examined the prosecution of individuals across all ethnicities. It was discovered that of those who were charged for indictable offenses, 63% were found to be guilty. This, therefore, shows that of those who were arrested and charged, a high percentage of them were found guilty so the perception of targeting certain races can be questioned. Alongside this, those of white ethnicity were more likely to be found guilty and sent to prison compared to those of different ethnicity. For example, when looking at the statistics of a violent crime against another person, the white ethnic group had a percentage of 47% conviction rate compared to black ethnicity and Asian ethnicity at 36% and mixed at 41% (Cuthbertson, 2017) These statistics imply that although there are figures representing the different ethnic groups, it can be admitted that there is not an overrepresentation of BAME groups but for white ethnicity, it appears there is an overrepresentation for them. This provides an example of racial disparity taking place in regard to prosecution, but however, it is in the opposite direction of the race.

Before the accused person of a crime stands trial, they are either held in custody or released on bail until their trial date. Racial discrimination can be viewed to have occurred through this type of process due to the ethnicity of the defendants who are placed in custody. Dobson (2018) found that predominantly black males were most likely to be remanded in custody compared to white and Asian groups which present potential racial bias. Regardless of this information, the conviction rates for different ethnic groups do not suggest racial bias to be occurring due to the percentages for BAME groups are significantly lower than those of white ethnicity. White defendants have continued to have a high overall prosecution rate at 86% compared to other ethnic groups at 81% (Dobson, 2018)

Once the defendant has been found guilty, their sentence may be found most appropriate to be carried out in prison A report published in 2014 known as The Young Review, examined the disproportionality within the prison system. The percentage of black and Asian ethnicity were specifically highlighted as 13.1% identified as black compared to 2.9% in the 2011 Census, and 13.4% identified as Asian compared to 4.2% in the same Census (Young, 2014) These findings from the report can be used today to identify whether there has been an increased or decreased change in the BAME population in prisons. In the United Kingdom today, the total of inmates in all United Kingdom prisons amounts to 82, 643 (Ministry of Justice, 2019)

Similar to The Young Review, a report published in 2017 known as The Lammy Review, had also examined the consistent perception that the criminal justice system imposes racial bias on those who are part of the BAME community, though changes to the statistics can be seen. Lammy, 2017 (cited in Cuthbertson, 2017) noted that BAME communities make up around 25% of prison populations however they are considered to still be overly represented. It was discovered that astonishingly among prisoners serving prison sentences for public order offenses, 417 offenders of black ethnicity and 631 of Asian ethnicity were placed in prison, for every 100 white offenders (Lammy, 2017b) These figures alone can suggest that there is an overrepresentation of different ethnic groups because of the substantial number of ethnic offenders in prison compared to white offenders. In comparison to The Young Review, it can be seen that the prison population of ethnic minorities have decreased by 1%, however, the concept of the BAME communities being overrepresented still remains.

Though the overrepresentation is clear, Cuthbertson (2017) highlighted that 66% of black people and 74% of Asian people believed that the criminal justice system and its proceedings were fair and effective, compared to 67% of white people. Therefore, the number of BAME individuals who are in prison can be suggested to be overrepresented as identified in certain offenses the number of BAME individuals are significantly higher. However, the percentages of agreement to the criminal justice system being fair, suggest that the overrepresentation shown is not the result of intentional racial bias within the system, but is in fact the result of higher numbers of BAME groups committing a crime (Gase et al, 2016)

Throughout society BAME communities are overrepresented in the criminal justice system in relation to committing a crime, however, is considered a victim is inadequately focused upon. Individuals of different ethnicity are more likely to be victims of crime compared to those of white ethnicity due to the areas in which they live- ethnic minorities are more likely to live in areas where time take place (Bulman, 2017) According to Office for National Statistics (2019) those of different ethnicity have higher percentages of crimes being inflicted against them. For example, those who have been identified as mixed ethnicity presented a percentage of 22% of being victims of crime, as well as 16% for Asians, 15% for black individuals and 14% for white people. This data shows that those of different ethnicity are subjected to being victims of crime rather than being the criminal themselves. These statistics can be supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2018) which identified that in England, 44.8% of Asian people and 37.4% of black people, felt that within their homes and around their local area, they experienced fear and anxiety of being victims of crime, compared to 29.2% of white people. Acknowledged by Bulman (2017) those of different ethnicity who are victims of crime, a small portion of them also have fears to report crimes committed against them. This then indicates that the percentages of ethnic minorities being victims may not be reliable due to the lack of reporting, therefore suggesting that BAME communities are underrepresented in terms of being victims due to the figures being disproportionality low (Bulman, 2017)

Overall, through the examination of different areas of the criminal justice system, it can be agreed that there is an overrepresentation of BAME groups within the criminal justice system. This overrepresentation can be viewed as either intentional or unintentional, either way high statistical evidence can support this claim. In particular, arrest rates prove that the overrepresentation of BAME groups are occurring in this specific area due to the identification of higher rates of arrest among those of different ethnicity. Conversely, it has been identified that BAME groups can also be underrepresented when viewed as a victim. The percentages of ethnic minorities prove that each ethnic group has a fear of crime due to be a victim themselves, however, more research is recommended into this issue due to the data provided being minimal.

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