Study Notes

Statistics on Ethnicity and Crime

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 18 Jul 2018

The statistical picture on the relationship between ethnicity and crime is not all clear and is open to interpretation.

For example, while members of minority ethnic groups are more likely to be stopped and searched and more likely to be arrested, white people are more likely to be found guilty. For example, in 2006/7 (data which are a little dated!) 60% of whites were found guilty compared with 52% of blacks and 44% of Asians. Why this might be is a matter of interpretation. One possibility is that people from minority ethnic groups are more likely to be wrongly charged, perhaps due to racial stereotyping.

13.2% of the UK prison population is black compared with their being 2.8% of the over 15 population. Asian and mixed‐race people are also over‐represented in the prison population; yet white people who represent 88.3% of the population only make up 73.8% of the prison population. (These statistics are from the Ministry of Justice, 2013).

Ethnicity and Crime: If the Statistics Reflect Reality

The theoretical approaches to crime and deviance all offer explanations for the statistical patterns we have identified. Explanations for some ethnic groups committing more crimes than others are:


Strain Theory. Merton's theory can clearly apply to members of some minority ethnic groups who statistically perform less well at school (link to education) and therefore may be denied social mobility by legitimate means.

Bonds of attachment. New and first‐generation migrants often live in transient communities in inner cities where there are few tight‐knit or established communities than in other localities (relate to Travis Hirschi and Shaw and McKay).

Subcultural theories. For the same reasons that Strain Theory might apply, people from minority‐ethnic backgrounds might be more likely to form deviant subcultures. While most of the theories referred to "lower‐ class boys" it is clear that in many towns and cities, the "boys" in question (those joining gangs, etc.) are often from minority‐ethnic groups.


Laws are made by the bourgeoisie to control the proletariat. For a range of reasons, some minority‐ethnic groups are much more likely to be working class than not, therefore the same arguments exist in relation to ethnicity as exist for social class.

Stuart Hall suggested that black people were forced into the informal economy (and therefore potential criminal activity) by being a reserve army of labour only required to do "white man's shit work".


Deviance amplification and secondary deviance. While most interactionist theories would explain why the statistical picture might be misleading, they can also explain why people from some minority‐ethnic backgrounds might actually commit more crimes. The impact of labelling (e.g. stereotypes about the "typical criminal") might lead to deviancy amplification, secondary deviance and a self‐fulfilling prophesy.

Differential association. Edwin Sutherland suggested that people learn "deviant" values through their interactions, and therefore people brought up in, or living in, areas with high levels of crime might themselves become criminal. This could happen in "ghetto" areas.


Underclass. African‐Caribbean families are statistically more likely to be matrifocal lone‐parent families (link to families). New Right sociologists argue that children from single parent families are more likely to commit crime because of the lack of a male role model, but also because of the creation of a workless, welfare‐dependent culture.

Broken Windows. Shaw and McKay suggest that inner city areas are transient communities that don't develop social solidarity and where new migrants don't put down roots. It is therefore likely that such communities are less likely to self‐regulate than suburban or rural communities, and are therefore more likely to have broken windows.


Relative Deprivation. For a variety of reasons, members of some minority‐ethnic groups are more likely to be working class or have a low income.

Social Exclusion. Racial discrimination can lead to social exclusion and marginalisation which, left realists also argue, can lead to criminality.

Ethnicity and Crime - If the Statistics are Misleading

One of the main explanations for this statistical picture, other than that minority‐ethnic groups really do commit more crime, is the effect of institutional racism.

In 1993, an 18‐year‐old man called Stephen Lawrence was murdered by a racist gang. The subsequent police inquiry was hugely unsuccessful ‐ nobody was successfully prosecuted until nearly 19 years later, despite lots of evidence including video footage of the gang bragging and planning how they would kill a black man ‐ and crucially didn't acknowledge the racist motives of the killers. A subsequent inquiry into the investigation, known as the McPherson Report, concluded in 1999. It made many recommendations relating to police reform and famously described the Metropolitan Police as being institutionally racist.

What was meant by this was that the problems with racism in the police were not just the product of a "few bad apples" but that the institution itself – its policies and procedures – were of themselves racist. It precipitated a sea change in equality legislation and policy: organisations now have to measure the impact of all their policies and procedures on specific groups having protected characteristics.

Some argue that police stop and search data reflect institutional racism: e.g. in 2014, the data showed 65 Black, 23 Asian, 28 mixed race individuals being stopped and searched per every thousand in the population, compared with 15 white individuals per every thousand.

This could be enough to account for the over‐representation of minority‐ethnic individuals in the official statistics. By stopping and searching a much larger number of individuals from those ethnicities, the chances of uncovering illegal activity is significantly increased.

While Stuart Hall explained why some minority‐ethnic individuals may actually have committed more crime, he also described the effect of a classic moral panic and how it could drive a fantasy crime wave where the actions of the police could give the impression of a significant increase in a particular type of crime (in this case mugging).

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