Official government statistics suggest that both black and asian people are more likely to be stopped by the police and go to jail than white people in England today.
The Home Office records statistics on the ethnic backgrounds of people as they ‘progress’ through the criminal justice system, such as:
- Stop and search
- Arrest statistics
- Custodial remands
- Custodial Sentences
- Prison Population
The main publication documenting this data is ‘Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System‘, the latest publication date being November 2018 (next release November 2021).
The latest report notes that ethnic minorities, especially black people are over-represented at many stages of the criminal justice process – but especially in the stop and search practice.
The figures below show the percentages of different ethnic groups represented through stop and search to the prison population:
NB the percentages above do not show us the percentages proportionate to the numbers of White, Black and Asian in the population so on their own they are misleading. 22% of the population isn’t Black, for example, so black people are hugely over-represented in the stop and search statistics (something the England and Wales Police Force is well aware of as something of a ‘problem’!)
Official Statistics on Ethnicity and Crime: The Main Differences…
Proportionate to the overall numbers in the adult population as a whole…
- Black people are approximately SIX times more likely to be stopped and searched and SIX times more likely to be sent to jail;
- Asian people are THREE times more likely to be stopped and searched than White people, but have a similar chance of being sent to jail.
The rest of this post provides a little more detail on how the stats vary at different stages of the criminalisation process.
Stop and Search Statistics by Ethnicity
Stop and search has long been an issue of concern by Human Rights campaigners in England and Wales
According to this BBC summary (2013) The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said in some areas black people were 29 times more likely to be stopped and searched. The commission said the disproportion between different ethnic groups remained “stubbornly high”.
The highest “disproportionality” ratios were found in the following places:
- In Dorset black people were 11.7 times more likely than white people to be stopped
- In West Mercia, Asian people were 3.4 times more likely than white people to be stopped
- In Warwickshire, people of mixed race were 4.4 times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched.
The report also looked at the use of Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act under which police can stop and search someone for weapons, without suspicion that the individual is involved in wrongdoing, providing that a senior officer has a reasonable belief that violence had or is about to occur.
Under section 60, In the West Midlands, black people were 29 times more likely than white people to be targeted and Asian people were six times more likely than white people to be targeted, which is what the above spoof advert mush be drawing on.
EHRC chief executive Mark Hammond said “the overall disproportionality in the use of the powers against black, Asian and mixed race people remains stubbornly high.”
And the latest figures figures (from the 2018 report above) note that things have got worse:
“The proportion of stop and searches conducted on White suspects decreased from 75% in 2014/15 to 59% in 2018/19 and increased for all minority ethnic groups.
The largest increases were from 13% to 22% for Black suspects and from 8% to 13% for Asian suspects.”
As the table below shows the overall number of people being stopped and searched by the police has declined in the last five years, but the proportions of Black and Asian people stopped and searched compared to whites has increased.
It seems that when the police are asked to use Stop and Search more selectively, they select to stop and search less white people and more ethnic minorities.
Arrest Rates following Stop and Search
The rates are converging, which I guess suggests the police are ‘getting it right’ in equal amounts across ethnic groups:
Arrest Statistics by Ethnicity
The total number of arrests have gone down over the last five years, in line with the declining crime rates. The arrest statistics have remained stable over time, with 77% of arrests being made of white people, 10% black and 7% Asian in 2018.
One stand-out trend for reasons for arrest is that Black people are less likely to be arrested for ‘violence against the person’ and more likely to be arrested for drugs than other ethnic groups – drugs is also the main reason for stop and search, so the two could be correlated.
Penalty Notices and Ethnicity
The main reason white people get given a penalty notice is for being ‘drunk and disorderly’, while for Black and Asian people the main reason is ‘cannabis possession’.
It’s interesting to note here that white people are getting notices for actually being offensive, while for black and asian people it’s merely possessing a drug the system has chosen to make illegal. There’s a significant link to interactionism here!
Prosecution and trial statistics
The Crown Prosecution service (CPS) is responsible for deciding whether a crime or arrest should be prosecuted in court. They base it on whether there is any real chance of the prosecution succeeding and whether it is better for the public that they are prosecuted.
Ethnic minority cases are more likely to be dropped than whites, and blacks and Asians are less likely to be found guilty than whites. Bowling and Phillips (2002) argue that this is because there is never enough evidence to prosecute as it is mainly based on racist stereotyping. In 2006/7 60% of whites were found guilty, against only 52% of blacks, and 44% of Asians.
When cases go ahead members of ethnic minorities are more likely to elect for Crown Court trail rather than magistrates (even through Crown Courts can hand out more severe punishments), potentially because of a mistrust of magistrates.
The conviction ratios are very similar for all ethnic groups, suggesting little racial bias at this stage of the criminal justice system:
Black people receive by far the longest sentences, but this seems related to much higher rates of repeat offending, while a much higher proportion of white people being prosecuted are first time offenders….
The 2018 report produced the impressive flow chart below, make of it what you will!
Personally my takeaway is that there seems to be broad equality in the way different ethnicities are treated, and a lot more repeat offending by Black offenders, hence their longer prison sentences.
Prosecutions and Convictions by Type of Offence and Ethnicity
To summarise to the extreme, White people mainly get convicted for theft, Black and Asian people for Drugs.
It’s also worth noting that Black people have significantly lower rates for violent crime than White or Asian people.
Prison Population by Ethnicity
The younger the age group, the fewer white people there are in jail:
And for the under 25s, the number of ethnic minorities in jail has increased proportionate to White people over the last five years:
More than half of children in jail are ethnic minorities
The latest report also has stats on children moving through the criminal justice system.
The figures are even more skewed against ethnic minorities compared to the adult statistics.
It’s more than a little disturbing to note that 51% of children in prison are from ethnic minority backgrounds.
The British Crime Survey indicated that 44 per cent of victims were able to say something about the offender who was involved in offences against them. Among these, 85 per cent of offenders were said by victims to be ‘white’, 5 per cent ‘black’, 3 per cent ‘Asian’ and 4 per cent ‘mixed’. However, these stats are only for the minority of ‘contact’ offences and very few people have any idea who was involved in the most common offences such as vehicle crime and burglary. Therefore, in the vast majority of offences no reliable information is available from victims about the ethnicity of the criminal.
Though not ‘official statistics’ because they’re not done by the government routinely, it’s interesting to contrast the above stats to this alternative way of measuring crime. Self-report studies ask people to disclose details of crimes they committed but not necessarily been caught doing or convicted of. Graham and Bowling (1995) Found that blacks (43%) and whites (44%) had similar and almost identical rates of crime, but Asians actually had lower rates (Indians- 30%, Pakistanis-28% and Bangladeshi-13%).
Sharp and Budd (2005) noted that the 2003 offending, crime and justice survey of 12,000 people found that whites and mixed ethnicity were more likely to say they had committed a crime, followed by blacks (28%) and Asians (21%).
You might also like these two further posts on official statistics, ethnicity and crime….
- Criminal, Ethnicity and Racism – Selected Key Statistics
- Racism in the Criminal Justice System – Selected Evidence