Academic journal article African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS

The Importance of Qualitative Research in Understanding the Disproportionate Black Presence in Crime Figures in the United Kingdom (UK)

Academic journal article African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS

The Importance of Qualitative Research in Understanding the Disproportionate Black Presence in Crime Figures in the United Kingdom (UK)

Article excerpt


This paper is a critique of the usefulness of quantitative research in illuminating our understanding of the over-representation of black people in crime figures including prison statistics. With reference to the United Kingdom, the paper offers a critical review of some of the narratives of quantitative research and its search for 'direct discrimination' in accounting for the disproportionate presence of black people in UK crime data. In doing so, the paper fundamentally argues for a deeper understanding of encounters between black people and the criminal justice system from a perspective which prioritises qualitative research into the role of 'indirect discrimination' in the formation of crime data.


Britain's black population has continued to be overrepresented in crime figures. Since their post-2nd World War immigration into the UK, arrest, conviction and prison figures have shown consistent patterns of black disproportionate presence - in comparison to other racial groups. The first systematic study to shed light on the disproportionate representation of black people in crime data was conducted by McClintock (1963). The study which focused on violent crimes in London showed that the number of black people convicted for violent crimes increased from 6.2 percent in 1950 to 13 percent in 1960. In the 1970s and 1980s, London-based arrest statistics compiled by the Metropolitan Police Service provided information on the racial composition of arrestees. Findings from these statistical data showed that in comparison to their resident London population of approximately 5 percent, black people's arrest rates were not only markedly disproportionate (see Home Office 1983, 1984, 1989) but were also higher than those for other racial groups in every category of offence.

Following the introduction of Section 95 of the 1991 Criminal Justice Act, arrest statistical data of the racial composition of arrestees have since been compiled at national level and on a regular basis. These relatively recent arrest figures have replicated the same scenario of black overrepresentation previously gleaned from the London-based arrest data (see Home Office 1992, 1998, 2000, 2002). Findings from the most recent national arrest figures based on race reveal that out of the estimated 1.3 million arrests for notifiable offences in 2002/2003 in England and Wales, black people comprised 9 percent - a 7 percent increase from the 2001/2002 arrest figures (Home Office 2004). These figures compared unfavourably to their national population of 2.8 percent. Black people were also three times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts (ibid.).

Also central to concerns about the problem of overrepresentation is black people's disproportionate representation in the numbers of those received under sentence and remand into penal institutions. This has been consistently demonstrated in national prison statistics of England and Wales (see Home Office 1986, 1993, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2002). As at February 2003, 16 percent of the male prison population and 25.3 percent of the female prison population were black. These figures were significantly influenced by the numbers of foreign nationals (34 percent of black male prisoners; 58 percent of black female prisoners), many of whom were charged or convicted for drugs importation. Nevertheless, the Home Office (2004) states that the overall "black prison population increased by 138% between 1993 and 2003". The position of young black people - aged 10-17 years - in this problem of overrepresentation is equally worth noting. Although they make-up only 2.7 percent of the 10-17 year old population of England and Wales, they constitute 6 percent of all youth court disposals, 20 percent of all the young people given orders for long-term detention and 11 percent of all custodial disposals (Youth Justice Board 2003; see also Goldson 2002; Moore and Peters 2003).

Attempts to explain this problem of black overrepresentation in crime figures have attracted a range of studies into various stages of black people's contact with the criminal justice system. …

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