Ethnicity and Crime: Short Answer Exam Questions and Answers

This post contains two examples of possible 4/6 mark ‘outline and explain’ questions which may come up on the AQA’s Crime and Deviance Paper 3.

Outline two structural factors which may explain differences in offending by ethnicity (4)

Two marks for each of two appropriate reasons clearly outlined or one mark for appropriate reasons partially outlined

  • The higher rates of single parent families in African-Caribbean households (1 mark) this might explain the higher levels of crime because absent fathers mean lack of a disciplinary figure and the fact that children from Caribbean households are more likely to join gangs (+1 mark)
  • Blocked opportunities in the education system for African-Caribbean children (1 mark) which means lower educational achievement, and a higher chance of being unemployed, which is correlated with higher levels of economic crime (+1 mark)
  • Institutional racism in the police force (1 mark) higher rates of ethnic minority crime may be a frustrated response against police oppression, as with the London riots (+1 mark)

Outline three ways in which Racism may manifest itself in the criminal justice system (6)

Two marks for each of two appropriate reasons clearly outlined or one mark for appropriate reasons partially outlined. The following would get 1 mark each, you need to add in the +1s

  • The police stop disproportionate amounts of black and Asian people (1 mark)
  • Black suspects are more likely to be sent to jail than white people (1 mark)
  • Ethnic minorities are more likely to have their cases thrown out of court than white people (1 mark)
  • Black and minority officers are under-represented (1 mark)
  • There is a ‘canteen culture’ of Racism in the UK police force (1 mark)
  • The police force fail to take race crimes against ethnic minorities seriously (1 mark)

Related Posts

Racism in the British Criminal Justice System – Selected Evidence

Unfortunately, there is a considerable amount of evidence suggesting a long history of institutional racism within the Criminal Justice System. Below we are going to look at the short version, starting with the case study of Stephen Lawrence…  

 The list of evidence is long, but there are limitations with this evidence, and alternative ways in which it might be interpreted; you should also be able to draw on other pieces of evidence which we’ve looked at in other parts of the course which point to a broader range of factors besides police racism which explain the disproportionately high numbers of Black and Asian people being processed through the criminal justice system.

 

1993: The Stephen Lawrence Case and the Macpherson Enquiry (1993/1999)
In this case a gang of white youths stabbed African Caribbean teenager Stephen Lawrence to death after shouting racist abuse at him. Despite substantial evidence against the youths, the police failed to mount a successful prosecution and no one was convicted of the murder. Following sustained pressure by Lawrence’s mother, the

The Macpherson enquiry was established to look into why and six years after Lawrence’s murder in 1999 it found that the Metropolitan police were institutionally racist.

The report defined institutional racism as ‘the collective failure of an organisation to provide and appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can been seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour that amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping and which disadvantage minority ethnic peoples’.

Note the following quote by John Mewing, chief constable for Derbyshire who admitted during this enquiry: “In the police service there is a distinct tendency for officers to stereotype people. Discrimination and unfairness are a result. I know because as a young police officer, I was guilty of such behaviour”

 

Disproportionate and Discriminatory: Reviewing the Evidence on Police Stop and Sear

Bowling and Phillips (2007) (link)

Although ten years old, this is one of the major pieces of research to have reviewed police prejudice since Stephen Lawrence – Phillips and Bowling are two names you should know in relation to this topic. Below is an extract to give you an idea of how strongly they talk about the existence of police racism…This is a piece of secondary research, and is a review of all available work done into Police Racism in the UK up until 2007.

Research evidence over the past three decades has found that specific stereotypes are commonly used by police officers to classify people on the basis of their ethnic origin. Studies found that black people were believed to be prone to violent crime and drug abuse, incomprehensible, suspicious, hard to handle, naturally excitable, aggressive, lacking brainpower, troublesome and ‘tooled up’.

These findings on racial prejudice and stereotyping have not been restricted to constables, but have been found throughout the ranks. Robert Reiner’s study of Chief Constables found that race was spontaneously mentioned more often than any other social division and was frequently brought up in other contexts.

Although some chiefs discussed ethnicity without invoking negative stereotypes, most spoke prejudicially. The predominant view was to regard the presence of black people as problematic for the police.

They tended to be seen as crime-prone, disorderly, argumentative, irrational, ‘likely to be carrying drugs or dangerous implements, noisy, and responsible for the antipathy held towards them’

Research in the 1990s suggested that overt targeting was ongoing; though police officers were more reluctant to admit it.

A Home Office funded study conducted by Janet Foster and colleagues found that explicit racist language was no longer tolerated and reached the view that it is gradually disappearing. Feeling under greater scrutiny after the Lawrence Inquiry, the authors argued that, in general, officers felt less able to carry out unjustified stop and search or ‘fishing trips’ without proper grounds for searching. However, the authors point to the possibility that racist attitudes and behaviour may simply have gone ‘underground’.

Although the links are complex, racially prejudiced attitudes do affect the way in which people behave. Hall et al argue that while there is no automatic or straightforward link between racially prejudiced attitudes and language and discriminatory or differential behaviour . . . there is a consistency in the pervasive nature and expression of racial stereotypes and their influence on police expectations and behaviours.

There is clear evidence that police officers routinely use skin colour as a criterion for ‘stop and search’ based on stereotyping and over-generalisations about the involvement of black people in crime. Evidence of this was apparent even when being observed by Home Office researchers. Furthermore, the use of colour as a criterion is particularly marked in relation to ‘stop and search’ for drug offences.

 

2011 –  Court room observations of sentencing following the London Riots
Lee Jasper argues that in this instance, there was clear evidence of racial bias in sentencing. A summary of his blog post

The London riots have attracted exceptional media and political coverage, but as the rebuilding work gets underway and the media coverage dies down… the rancid stench of judicial racism begins to fill the air.

I have witnessed this first hand having spent three days at inner London Crown Court observing case after case being tried in the immediate aftermath of the riots. What I saw shocked me to the core: it reminded me of the chaotic ad hoc justice of the Wild West. Black offenders rights were dismissed, bail applications routinely refused for first time offenders and disproportionate sentences handed out down by an almost all white judiciary. It was carnage.

The Guardian reports that “the difference in racial sentencing between courts was considerable. Haringey magistrates court, which dealt with many of the Tottenham riot cases, sentenced – before the summer disturbances – 11 of the 54 black defendants it dealt with for public disorder or weapons offences to prison, as compared to 5 of 73 white defendants. While West London magistrates court sentenced 17 of 107 black defendants to jail, versus 21 of 237 who were white – meaning at that court black defendants were 79% more likely to be jailed.”

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2011/nov/25/ethnic-variations-jail-sentences-study)

 

2013 – A review of Stop and Search stats by The Equality and Human Rights Commission has argued that the Police use their powers disproportionately…
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

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.”

Criminal Justice, Ethnicity and Racism

Both Paul Gilroy and Stuart Hall argue that crime statistics are socially constructed and these statistics do not reflect underlying differences in crime rates. They argue instead that the variations in stop and search and imprisonment rates by ethnicity are mostly explained by differences in stop and search rates of ethnic groups which means a higher proportion of black and Asian criminals are caught and prosecuted compared to white criminals

Look at the statistical evidence below, to what extent does the evidence support Gilroy’s and Hall’s views?

Self-report studies

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%).

Victim surveys

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.

Prosecution and trial

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.

Sentencing and prison

Jail sentences are more likely to be given to Blacks (68%) compared to Whites (55%) or Asians (59%), whereas Whites and Asians were more likely to receive community services. But this could be due to the seriousness of some ones offence of previous convictions.

Hood (1992) found that even when the seriousness of an offence and previous convictions were taken into account Black men were 5x more likely to be jailed and given a sentence which is 3 months (Asians 9 months) longer than whites.

Ethnicity and Crime: Paul Gilroy’s ‘Anti-Racist Theory’

Below I summarise pp52-3 of Collins’ Sociology AQA A-Level Year 2 Student Book (Chapman, Holborn, Moore and Aiken.) This is their take on what they call ‘Paul Gilroy’s Anti Racist Theory of Crime’ – Interestingly Prof. Gilroy commented on the post saying this is a shallow, oversimplified travesty of what he wrote.

Gilroy’s Anti-Racist Theory of Crime 

Gilroy describes a ‘myth of black criminality’ and attributed statistical differences in recorded criminality between ethnic groups as being due to police stereotyping and racist labelling .

Gilroy also argued that crime amongst Black British ethnic groups was a legacy of the struggle against White dominance in former colonies such as Jamaica. When early migrants came to Britain they faced discrimination and hostility, and drew upon the tradition of anticolonial struggle to develop cultures of resistance against White-dominated authorities and police forces.

While Left Realists such as Lea and Young argued that ome criminal acts such as rioting could involve protest against marginalisation, but Paul Gilroy goes much further, seeing most crime by Black ethnic groups as essentially political and as part of the general resistance to White Rule.

Evaluations of Gilroy’s Anti-Racism Theory

This theory is criticised by Lea and Young (1984) on several grounds:

– First generation immigrants were actually very law-abiding citizens and as such did not resist against the colony of Britain and were less likely to pass this anti-colonial stance to their kids.
– Most crime is against other people of the same ethnic group and so cannot be seen as resistance to racism.
– Like critical criminologists, Lea and Young criticise Gilroy for romanticising the criminals as somehow revolutionary.
– Asian crimes rates are similar or lower than whites, which would mean the police were only racist towards blacks, which is unlikely.
– Most crime is reported to police not uncovered by them so it is difficult to suggest racism within the police itself.

Related Posts 

Gilroy draws on the labelling theory crime, among others.

Ethnicity and Crime: Neo-Marxist Approaches

Neo-Marxism draws on aspects of Marxist and Interactionist theory in order to explain the criminalisation of ethnic minorities by the media and the state.

The classic study from this perspective is Stuart Hall’s Policing the Crisis (1979) in which he examined the moral panic that developed over the crime of mugging in the 1970s. Despite sensationalist newspaper reports that claimed there was an increase in mugging, particularly among young black men in London, Hall’s own research showed that it was actually growing more slowly than in the previous decade.

Hall argued that a moral panic over black criminality at the time created a diversion away from the wider economic crisis – ‘black youths out of control’ being the headlines rather than ‘Capitalism in Crisis’ – hence the title of the book ‘Policing the Crisis’ (of Capitalism).

Hall broke his analysis down into several stages – focusing firstly on how Capitalism caused crime, and then on how the media, state and the police responded to this, and finally on the further reaction of the criminalised black youth:

  1. A major economic recession in the mid-1970s increased unemployment and lead to wider civil unrest – such as mass strikes.
  1. Capitalism faced a ‘legitimation crisis’ – it appeared not to be working – government needed a scapegoat to divert attention away from the failing Capitalist system.
  1. Fortunately (for the Capitalist Class and the government) the recession also lead to further social and economic marginalization of black youth which lead to an increase in street robbery.
  1. The media picked up on these street robberies, creating a ‘moral panic’.
  1. The government responded to this by putting more police in areas with increasing crime rates.
  1. This lead to higher arrest rates which the media of course reported.
  1. The end consequence of all of this is that the public’s attention is firmly focused on the problem of black criminality, rather than the deeper problems of the capitalist system which both causes crime in the first place and then further criminalises certain people (young, black and working class).

Evaluations

  • Stuart Hall seems to contradict himself – On one hand he claims that black crime is exaggerated; on the other hand he states that crime is bound to rise because of factors such as unemployment. If crime rates do rise, then it isn’t a moral panic but a real event.
  • The association between criminality and black youth has continued since the economic crisis of the 1970s, so it’s not clear that this is the ultimate cause of the ‘moral panic’.

Left Realist Explanations for Ethnic Differences in Crime

Left Realists, Lea and Young suggest that ethnic minorities are disadvantaged in comparison with other groups in society, and this is especially true for young black males who have much higher levels of unemployment. In comparison with their peers from other ethnic groups, they are much less likely to be successful in the labour market and so suffer lower wages and thus higher levels of relative deprivation.

Young ethnic minority males are also more likely to experience marginalisation because they are under-represented at the highest levels of society, in government, political parties and trades unions for example.

 

Lea and young argue it would be surprising if there were not higher crime levels among those groups which experienced higher levels of deprivation and marginalisation.

Evaluating Left Realism

Read through the following two items, you should be able to find at least two reasons why Left Realism may be inadequate to explain the higher rates of offending by Black and Asian people.

Item A: Statistics on ethnicity and relative deprivation

Some ethnic minority groups experience higher levels of poverty than white people. According to the Labour Force Survey 2004/05 20% of White British households are in income poverty compared to 25% of Indian, 30% of Black Caribbean, 45% of Black African, 55% of Pakistani and 65% of Bangladeshi households.

In terms of social class, 42% of White British students are from homes in the top two social classes, compared to 37% of Black Caribbean, 36% of Black African, 29% of Indian, 19% of Pakistani and only 9% of Bangladeshi students.

Item B: The Home Office Affairs Committee 2006-7 Report on young black people and the criminal justice system

This recent report seems to offer broad support for Left Realism, but also suggests there are other factors which need to be taken into account in order to explain variations in patterns of offending by ethnicity…

Data gaps prevent us from building a comprehensive picture of young black people’s overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. However, the evidence we received suggests young black people are overrepresented as suspects for certain crimes such as robbery, drugs offences and—in some areas—firearms offences. Young black people are also more likely to be victims of violent crimes.

Some of our witnesses were concerned that the media distorts perceptions of young black people’s involvement in crime. Research commissioned by this Committee contradicted this view, indicating that most members of the public reject stereotyping as regards young black people’s involvement in crime.

Social exclusion is a key underlying cause of overrepresentation. Eighty per cent of Black African and Black Caribbean communities live in Neighbourhood Renewal Fund areas. Deprivation directly fuels involvement in some types of offence—such as acquisitive crime—and also has an important impact on educational achievement and the profile of the neighbourhood young people will live in. The level of school exclusions appears to be directly related to educational underachievement and both are linked to involvement in the criminal justice system. Witnesses also emphasised factors within black communities which help exacerbate disadvantage and fuel involvement in the criminal justice system.

They drew attention to a lack of father involvement and to other parenting issues. In the perceived absence of alternative routes to success, some young people also actively choose to emulate negative and violent lifestyles popularised in music and film. Criminal justice system factors play an important role in promoting overrepresentation.

There is some evidence to support allegations of direct or indirect discrimination in policing and the youth justice system. However, the perception as well as the reality of discrimination has an impact. Lack of confidence in the criminal justice system may mean some young black people take the law into their own hands or carry weapons in an attempt to distribute justice and ensure their own personal safety.

Ethnicity and Crime: The Role of Cultural Factors

Some Sociologists have suggested that cultural differences, especially differences in family life, may be responsible for underlying differences in offending between ethnic groups.

Single Parent Families are more common among African-Caribbean Families, which may be related to higher rates of crime

In 2007 Almost half the black children in Britain were being raised by single parents. Forty-eight per cent of black Caribbean families had one parent, as did 36 per cent of black African households.

Rates of teenage motherhood are also significantly higher among young black women and despite constituting only 3 per cent of the population aged 15 – 17, they accounted for 9 per cent of all abortions given to women under the age of 18.

The higher rates of single parenthood in Black-Caribbean families may lead to boys from this group being more likely to offend because of the lack of a male role-model to provide guidance and keep them in check.

However, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that British Caribbean single parents are far from isolated, and not even really ‘single’ at all. Research by Geoffrey Driver in the 1980s revealed that Caribbean single mothers are often well-connected to other people in their communities, so not necessarily isolated. Networks existed within neighbours to provide informal help with childcare and school runs. Other research has also found that family connections to brothers and sisters (uncles and aunts) are strong in British Caribbean communities, while Tracey Reynolds (2002) points out that many single Caribbean mothers are in a long term relationship with a man who doesn’t live with them, but visits every day and plays an active role in childcare.

In contrast, Asian families tend to be more stable, which might explain the lower rates of offending within Asian communities.  Marriage is still seen as a key milestone in Brit-Asian life. A UK National Statistics report says the highest proportions of married couples under pension age, with or without children, are in Asian households. Over half of Bangladeshi (54%), Indian (53%) and Pakistani (51%) households contained a married couple, compared with 37% of those headed by a White British person.

However,  there is a dark-side to Asian family life, and that comes in the number of Forced Marriages associated with Asian communities. One report from 2008 suggests that there are up to 3000 third and fourth generation  Asian women who are subjected to forced marriages in the UK. This crime will of course be practically invisible in the official statistics.

The culture of anti-school black masculinity may also be related to higher rates of black criminality

Tony Sewell (1997) observed that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed, particularly at secondary school.

Sewell (2003) argued that “black boys today have real opportunities but they are failing to grasp them. I talk to middle class, black parents who tell me they literally have to fight to keep their boys on task. These are boys from well-resourced homes, they go to the better state schools and yet they are performing below their potential. A black male today faces anti-school peer pressure that dominates our schools. Ask your son about it if you need some enlightenment. A head teacher told me how one student was jumped outside of his school: he was beaten and his attackers took his mobile phone, his trainers, his jacket and his cap. In our inner cities, black male youth culture has moved from a community of safety and brotherhood to one of fear of each other.”

Evaluating the Role of Cultural Factors

There are limitations with cultural explanations of differences in offending

Firstly, these theories might be accused of explaining crimes by drawing on crude stereotypes – there are significant cultural variations within Black and Asian ethnic groups, and official statics only collect very basic stats on ethnicity (literally just recording whether people are Black or Asian) thus there is no real way to evaluate the above theories.

Secondly, it is difficult to separate out cultural from material factors such as unemployment and poverty, which are emphasised by Left Realists.

Thirdly, these theories don’t take into account the fact that underlying differences in crime rates may be a response to blocked opportunities which are in turn caused by structural racism in wider society.

Fourthly, these theories do not consider the fact that that the statistics might be a social construction and exaggerate the true extent of Black and Asian criminality. Critical criminologists, for example, argue that the over-representation of minority groups in the criminal justice system is because they are more likely to be criminalised by agents of social control.

 

Official Statistics on Ethnicity and Crime

The Home Office records statistics on the ethnic backgrounds of people as they ‘progress’ through the criminal justice system, such as:

  1. Stop and search
  2. Arrest statistics
  3. Prosecutions
  4. Convictions
  5. Custodial remands
  6. Custodial Sentences
  7. 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’!)

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.

Official Statistics on Ethnicity and Crime – The Most Obvious Differences between Ethnic Groups… 

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.

stop and search.jpg

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

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.

Convictions

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:

Victim surveys

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.

Self-report studies

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%).

Social Class and Crime

In this topic we examine the relationship between social class and crime.

According to available statistics, class background is correlated with both the amount of and type of offending, but there are some significant limitations with the statistics on social class and crime and these limitations are the first thing we examine.

We then simply selectively apply some of the perspectives which we’ve already looked at earlier in the course: Consensus theory explains the higher rates of working class crime in terms of  differential access the working classes and middle classes have in relation to the legitimate opportunity structure, which generates different cultural responses; Interactionism broadly rejects the consensus theory arguing that the higher rates of working class crime are a social construction; Marxism recognises the fact that the high levels of working class crime are a social construction in that emphasises the role of crimogenic capitalism in generating crime.

Finally, we look at the realisms – Right Realism focuses our attention on the underclass, rather than the working class as the main cause of crime in society today, while left realism sees crime as an outgrowth of inequality and marginalisation, without blaming Capitalism per se as Marxists do.

social-class-crime-mind-map-1

Consensus Theories, Social Class and Crime 

Consensus theories generally accepted the fact that crime rates were higher among the lower social classes and set out to explain why – two theories which explicitly focused on the differences between working class culture and crime were Strain theory and Status Frustration theory.

Robert Merton: Strain Theory, Blocked Opportunities and Working Class Innovation

Robert Merton argued that crime increased when there was a strain (or gap) between society’s success goals (achieving material wealth) and the available opportunities to achieve those goals through legitimate means (having a well-paying job). Merton called this imbalance between goals and the ability to achieve them ‘anomie’.

Merton argued that crime was higher among the working classes because they had fewer opportunities to achieve material success through legitimate means and were thus more likely to adopt innovative cultural responses in order to achieve material success through criminal means – through burglary or drug dealing, for example.

Merton saw crime as a response to the inability of people to achieve material wealth, emphasising the role of material or economic factors.

(More detailed notes on Merton’s Strain Theory)

Albert Cohen: Status Frustration and Working Class Subcultures

Albert Cohen put more emphasis on cultural factors (values and status) rather than material factors in explaining working class crime.

Cohen argued that working class boys strove to emulate middle-class values and aspirations, but lacked the means to achieve success. This led to status frustration: a sense of personal failure and inadequacy.

In Cohen’s view they resolved their frustration by rejecting socially acceptable values and patterns of acceptable behaviour. Because there were several boys going through the same experiences, they end up banding together and forming delinquent subcultures.

This delinquent subculture reversed the norms and values of mainstream culture, offering positive rewards (status) to those who were the most deviant. Status was gained by being malicious, intimidating others, breaking school rules or the law and generally causing trouble.

This pattern of boys rejecting mainstream values and forming delinquent subcultures first started in school and then becomes more serious later on, taking on the form of truancy and possibly gangs.

(More detailed notes on Subcultural Theory)

Interactionism, Social Class and Crime

The main piece of sociological research which has specifically examined the relationship between the police and the social class background of offenders is Aaron Cicourel’s ‘Power and The Negotiation of Justice’ (1968)

Cicourel argued that it was the meanings held by police officers and juvenile officers that explained why most delinquents come from working class backgrounds, and that the process of defining a young person as a delinquent was complex, involving mainly two stages of interactions based on sets of meanings held by the participants.

The first stage is the decision by the police to stop and interrogate an individual. This decision is based on meanings held by the police of what is ‘strange’, ‘unusual’ and ‘wrong’. Whether or not the police stop and interrogate an individual depends on where the behaviour is taking place and on how the police perceive the individual(s). Whether behaviour is deemed to be ‘suspicious’ will depend on where the behaviour is taking place, for example an inner city, a park, a suburb. If a young person has a demeanour like that of a ‘typical delinquent’ then the police are more likely to both interrogate and arrest that person.

The Second Stage is that the young person is handed over to a juvenile delinquent officer. This officer will have a picture of a ‘typical delinquent’ in his mind. Factors associated with a typical delinquent include being of dishevelled appearance, having poor posture, speaking in slang etc. It follows that Cicourel found that most delinquents come from working class backgrounds.

When middle class delinquents are arrested they are less likely to be charged with the offence as they do not fit the picture of a ‘typical delinquent’. Also, their parents are more able to present themselves as respectable and reasonable people from a nice neighbourhood and co-operate fully with the juvenile officers, assuring them that their child is truly remorseful.

As a result, the middle class delinquent is more likely to be defined as ill rather than criminal, as having accidentally strayed from the path of righteousness just the once and having a real chance of reforming.

Cicourel based his research on two Californian cities, each with a population of about 100, 000. both had similar social characteristics yet there was a significant difference in the amount of delinquents in each city. Cicourel argued that this difference can only be accounted for by the size, organisation, policies and practices of the juvenile and police bureaus. It is the societal reaction that affects the rate of delinquency. It is the agencies of social control that produce delinquents.

Marxism, Social Class and Crime

Marxists argue that while working class crime does exist, it is a rational response to crimogenic capitalism. Moreover, all class commit crime, and the crimes of the elite are more harmful than street crime, but less likely to be punished.

Crimogenic Capitalism

  1. Capitalism encourages individuals to pursue self-interest before everything else.
  2. Capitalism encourages individuals to be materialistic consumers, making us aspire to an unrealistic and often unattainable lifestyle.
  3. Capitalism in its wake generates massive inequality and poverty, conditions which are correlated with higher crime rates.

Marxist Sociologist David Gordon says that Capitalist societies are ‘dog eat dog societies’ in which each individual company and each individual is encouraged to look out for their own interests before the interests of others, before the interests of the community, and before the protection of the environment. If we look at the Capitalist system, what we find is that not only does it recommend that we engage in the self-interested pursuit of profit is good, we learn that it is acceptable to harm others and the environment in the process.

Marxists theorise that the values of the Capitalist system filter down to the rest of our culture. Think again about the motives of economic criminals: The burglars, the robbers, and the thieves. What they are doing is seeking personal gain without caring for the individual victims.

The Capitalist system is also one of radical inequality. At the very top we have what David Rothkopf calls the ‘Superclass’ , mainly the people who run global corporations, and at the very bottom we have the underclass (in the developed world) and the slum dwellers, the street children and the refugees in the developing world.

The Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman points out that the super wealthy effectively segregate themselves from the wealthy, through living in exclusive gated communities and travelling in private jets and armoured vehicles with security entourages. If people can afford it, they move to a better area, and send their children to private schools. However, this doesn’t prevent the poor and the rich from living side by side.

Marxists argue that the visible evidence of massive inequalities give people at the bottom a sense of injustice, a sense of anger and a sense of frustration that they are not sharing in the wealth being flaunted in front of them (the flaunting is the point is it not?) As a result, Capitalism leads to a flourishing of economic crime as well as violent street crime.

William Chambliss even goes so far as to say that economic crime ‘’represents rational responses to the competitiveness and inequality of life in capitalist societies”.  As we have seen from previous studies. Drug dealers see themselves as innovative entrepreneurs. So internalised is the desire to be successful that breaking the law is seen as a minor risk.

Marxists hold that more egalitarian societies based on the values of the co-operation and mutual assistance, have lower crime rates.

The Crimes of the elite are more costly than street crime

Marxists argue that although they are hidden from view, the crimes of the elite exert a greater economic toll on society than the crimes of the ‘ordinary people’. Laureen Snider (1993) points out that the cost of White Collar Crime and Corporate Crime to the economy far outweighs the cost of street crime by ‘typical’ criminals.

Key Concepts

White Collar Crime: Crimes committed in the furtherance of an individual’s own interests, often against the corporations of organisations within which they work.

Corporate Crime: Those crimes committed by or for corporations or businesses which act to further their interests and have a serious physical or economic impact on employees, consumers and the general public. The drive is usually the desire to increase profits.

The Cost of Financial Crime (Fraud)

Organisations such as Corporate Watch and…. Multinational Monitor, suggest that Corporate Fraud is widespread.  The General Accounting Agency of the USA has estimated that 100s of savings and loans companies have failed in recent years due to insider dealing, failure to disclose accurate information, and racketeering. The cost to the taxpayer in the USA of corporate bail outs is estimated to be around $500 billion, or $5000 per household in the USA.[1]

Case Study – Bernie Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi scheme.

In 2009 the disgraced financier Bernie Madoff was sentenced to the maximum 150 years in prison for masterminding a $65bn (£38bn) fraud that wrecked the lives of thousands of investors.

The US district judge Denny Chin described the fraud as “staggering” and said the “breach of trust was massive” and that a message was being sent by the sentence. There had been no letters submitted in support of Madoff’s character, he said. Victims in the courtroom clapped as the term was read out.

Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 counts of fraud, theft and money laundering. The sentencing, in what has been one of the biggest frauds ever seen on Wall Street, was eagerly anticipated. Described by victims in written testimony as a “thief and a monster”, Madoff has become an emblem for the greed that pitched the world into recession. Nearly 9,000 victims have filed claims for losses in Madoff’s corrupt financial empire.

Madoff masterminded a huge “Ponzi” scheme. Instead of investing client’s money in securities, it was held with a bank and new deposits used to pay bogus returns to give the impression that the business was successful. At the time of his arrest in December, he claimed to manage $65bn of investors’ money, but in reality there was just $1bn left.

Right Realism/ Underclass Theory and Crime 

Right Realists disagree with Marxists – Right Realists point to the underclass as being responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime in society.

Charles Murray and the Underclass

 Charles Murray argued that changes to family structure was responsible for much of the increase in the crime rate in the 1970s and 80s – he largely attributes the growth of crime because of a growing underclass or ‘new rabble’ who are defined by their deviant behaviour and fail to socialise their children properly. The children of the underclass fail to learn self-control and also fail to learn the difference between right and wrong.

The underclass has increased because of increasing welfare dependency. Murray argues that increasingly generous welfare benefits since the 1960s have led to increasing numbers of people to become dependent on the state. This has led to the decline of marriage and the growth of lone parent families, because women can now live off benefits rather than having to get married to have children. This also means that men no longer have to take responsibility for supporting their families, so they no longer need to work.

According to Murray, lone mothers are ineffective agents of socialisation, especially for boys. Absent fathers mean than boys lack paternal discipline and appropriate male role models. As a result, young males turn to other, delinquent role models on the street to gain status through crime rather than supporting their families through a steady job.

Increasing crime is effectively a result of children growing up surrounded by delinquent, deviant criminal adults which creates a perfect crimogenic environment.

Unemployment and Crime –

A recent comparison 4.3 million offenders in England and Wales whose names appeared in court records or the Police National Computer with separate benefits records held by the Department for Work and Pensions revealed that more than 1.1 million of the 5.2 million people claiming out-of-work benefits had a criminal record, or 22 per cent. This means that people who are claiming unemployment benefit are more than twice as likely to have a criminal record as those who are not.  (Source: More than a fifth of people on unemployment benefits have a criminal record.)

NEETS and Crime

NEETS stands for young people aged between 16 and 24 Not in Education, Employment or Training. They first came to the government’s attention in the mid 2000s when they numbered 1.1m. At that time, a study by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) conservatively estimated that each new NEET dropping out of education at 16 will cost taxpayers an average of £97,000 during their lifetime, with the worst costing more than £300,000 apiece.

Their impact on crime, public health and antisocial behaviour was so marked that the study found that a single 157,000-strong cohort of 16 to 18-year-old NEETs would cost the country a total of £15 billion by the time they died prematurely in about 2060. They are, says the study, 22 times more likely to be teenage mothers; 50% more likely to suffer from poor health; 60% more likely to be involved with drugs and more than 20 times more likely to become criminals.

Left Realism, Social Class and Crime

Left Realists Lea and young conclude that they can explain this using the following key concepts; relative deprivation, marginalisation and subculture.

Relative deprivation

 Lea and Young argue that crime has its roots in deprivation, but deprivation itself is not directly responsible for crime – for example, living standards have risen since the 1950s, so the level of deprivation has fallen, but the crime rate is much higher today than it was in the 1950s.

Left Realists draw on Runciman’s (1966) concept of relative deprivation to explain crime. This refers to how someone feels in relation to others, or compared with their own expectations.

The concept of relative deprivation helps to explain the apparent paradox of increasing crime in the context of an increasing wealthy society. Although people are better off today, they have a greater feeling of relative deprivation because of the media and advertising have raised everyone’s expectations for material possessions – we are wealthier, but we feel poorer, and thus there is more pressure to get more stuff to keep up with everyone else, which generates historically high crime rates.

Marginalisation

 This is where people lack the power or resources to fully participate in society. According to Left Realists marginalised groups lack both clear goals and organisations to represent their interests. Groups such as workers have clear goals (such as wanting better pay and conditions) and organisations to represent them (such as trades unions), and as such they have no need to resort to violence to achieve their goals.

By contrast, unemployed youth are marginalised – they have no specific organisation to represent them and no clear sense of goals – which results in feelings of resentment and frustration. Having no access to legitimate political means to pursue their goals, frustration can become expressed through violence.

Subculture

Left Realists see subcultures as a group’s collective response to the situation of relative deprivation, and they draw on Cohen’s theory of status frustration to explain how they emerge. There are many different subcultural adaptations to blocked opportunities, and not all result in crime – but those subcultures which still subscribe to the mainstream values of material wealth but lack legitimate opportunities to achieve those goals.

Revision Notes for Sale 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Crime and Deviance Revision Notes  – 31 pages of revision notes covering the following topics:

  1. Consensus based theories part 1 – Functionalism; Social control’ theory; Strain theory
  2. Consensus based theories part 2 – Sub cultural theories
  3. The Traditional Marxist and Neo-Marxist perspective on crime
  4. Labeling Theory
  5. Left- Realist and Right-Realist Criminology (including situational, environmental and community crime prevention)
  6. Post-Modernism, Late-Modernism and Crime (Social change and crime)
  7. Sociological Perspectives on  controlling crime – the role of the community and policing in preventing crime
  8. Sociological Perspectives on Surveillance
  9. Sociological Perspectives on Punishment
  10. Social Class and Crime
  11. Ethnicity and Crime
  12. Gender and crime  (including Girl gangs and Rape and domestic violence)
  13. Victimology – Why are some people more likely to be criminals than others
  14. Global crime, State crime and Environmental crime (Green crime)
  15. The Media and Crime, including moral panics

Related Posts

Outline and analyse two ways in which patterns of crime may vary with social class (10)

Social Class – An Introduction to the Concept

The Marxist perspective on crime – is especially relevant to this topic

Philip Green, the Collapse of BHS and the Continued Relevance of Marxist Theory

This is a useful documentary on the role of billionaire Philip Green in the  collapse of British Home Stores, which demonstrates the relevance of some key concepts within Marxism.

British Home Stores was one of the best known high street retail stores in Britain for many decades, employing thousands of people, but in 2016 it went bankrupt, with a massive £550 million deficit in its pensions fund, and it seems Philip Green has a lot to do with this.

Philip Green bought British Home Stores in the year 2000, for £2 million. At the time, the store was failing, mainly due to its inability to keep up with the retail competition. Philip Green (in fairness to him) did turn the store around from being a failing company to a profitable enterprise in the early years of his ownership, but then he went to extract more money out the company than it was actually making, causing its ultimate collapse a decade later.

In total, over the next 15 years, Philip Green and his family extracted almost £600 million from the store in dividends, rental payments and interests on loans, £100 million of which went to fund their new super yacht named ‘Lion Heart’.

Green was very clever about the way he extracted money – it was technically his wife’s companies which owned most of BHS, and so it was his wife who received the millions of pounds in dividends payments , and because his wife was based in Monaco, a tax haven, she (and thus he) effectively paid no tax on those dividends. Between 2002 and 2004, shareholders extracted just over £422m in dividends, most of which went to Green’s wife.

Another strategy Green used was to sell off all the freeholds on which the BHS stores stood – to another of his wife’s companies, which were based in Jersey, another tax haven. This company then charged BHS rent for being on the land that BHS had previously owned. This amounted to several millions of pounds over the years, and again, all of this was tax free because Jersey was another tax haven. In total, the Green family collected £151.4m in rent using this strategy.

Things started to go pear shaped after the financial crash of 2008,, following which the pension fund had a £140 million deficit, which had grown to £225 million by 2015.

It was at this point that Green sold British Home Stores to a little known investment company for £1 – he agreed to pay in £40 million to the pension fund and gave then tens of millions in other sweeteners, knowing that he was effectively saving himself at least £150 million by passing on the pension-debt to this new company.

Retail Acquisitions failed to keep the company afloat, resulting in the eventual bankruptcy of the company, the closure of every single BHS store in the UK, thousands of job losses and, after a further year of no-profit, a massive £551 million deficit in the pension fund, which 20 000 people are members of.

Meanwhile, Philippe Green continues to enjoy the benefits of the nearly £600 million he extracted from the company during his time in charge, and it’s estimated that his wife’s property company is still currently earning about £20 million a year in rentals from the old BHS freeholds.

Sources 

The Guardian