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crime poverty

Asked by cryptonite123 | Apr 17, 2008 | University Level > Sociology > Advice
cryptonite123 asks:

Poverty - rather than ethnicity - is the key variable to explain the overreresentation of certain ethnic minorites in the CJS.

To what extent do you agree with the above assertion?
What recommendations for chnage flow from your analysis?

please please, can someone head me in the right dierection as to how to tackle this question?

etutor answers:

In practice it might be difficult to establish that there is a SINGLE key variable, since there are clearly links between ethnicity and poverty, given that ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented among low income households.

The official crime statistics cannot take account of unreported crime – hence they can be seen as GENERALLY inadequate, and not simply when applied to ethnic minorities. Perhaps 70% of crimes go unrecorded. Moral panics and police initiatives have dramatic effects on the recorded crime rate – if a particular issue is exaggerated/highlighted by politicians or in the press, then the public may report it more; police respond by targeting the particular issue, in order to be seen to be tackling the problem, so there are more arrests and an increase in the recorded crime rate. This is called deviance amplification; mugging is the classic example.

In the particular case of ethnic minorities, many live in high crime areas; this is a key causal factor leading to low level of recorded crime – hence official statistics may under-estimate the number of ethnic crimes.
Hall (1978) and Gilroy (1982) claim high levels of criminality among ethnic minorities are mythical – an illusion caused by distorted media attention and inadequate official statistics. Gilroy also argues the over-representation of ethnic groups in the statistics is a result of selective police practice arising out of police racism. This is particularly true of young, working class African-Caribbean males. Lee and Young (1993) argue that increased levels of social deprivation and marginalisation explain the use of crime as a response to their situation.

The official crime figures are used as a political weapon at times of economic or political crisis (Hall, 1978) – the myth of black street crime is used as a scapegoat to divert public attention away from the real social problems of unemployment, poverty. On this basis, ethnic crime (dominated by theft) is a political response to capitalism and racism, results from deprivation, racial disadvantage and discrimination, political exclusion, and distrust of/hostility towards the police, and is therefore a natural focus for police activity, especially where the police are white. Hence more resources are devoted to locating and recording ethnic crime.

The Scarman Report (1981), published after the Brixton riots, stressed the riots were essentially an expression of anger and resentment by young Afro-Carbbeans against the police. The Home Office report into racial attacks in the same year revealed that South Asins were 50 times, and Afro-Caribbeans 36 times more likely to be the victims of racially motivated attacks, than whites. Afro-Caribbeans comprise over 10% of the male prison population and 25% of the female prison population, and are about 7 times as likely to be in prison as white people (Smith, 1994). Two broad explanations are put forward:

1. The criminal justice system is racist and discriminates against ethnic minorities, particularly ACs.
2. Ethnic minorities (particularly ACs) are disproportionately criminal.

There is limited research evidence to judge these explanations, particularly the second. Most sociologists tend to focus on racism and discrimination in employment as a key factor; others focus on poverty. The suggestion is that the police may see this group in negative, stereotypical ways, and the same accusation is sometimes levelled at juries. There is also the possibility of subculture - seen as a collective 'solution' to group problems, where crime forms a group cultural response to feelings of oppression. Black youths are also often marginalised - i.e. pushed to the edge of society and towards criminal activity because of low academic success and high unemployment. Cultural explanations include the decline in the traditional two-parent family, especially among ACs, the effect of tower block living on communities and the influence of TV.
Reiner (1993) says that AC young men, because of racism in society and their vulnerability to unmployment, are likely to turn to crime as a survival strategy AND it is because of racism at various stages in the criminal justice system that they are more likely to be defined as criminal, and thus become criminalised. Smith (1994) reaches the same conclusion - there is bias against ACs in the use of police stop and search powers, in the decision to prosecute juvenile offenders, and in court sentencing. Hudson (1993) argues that both racism in the CJ system AND the greater involvement of AC young men in street crime contribute to the criminalisation of black people in what he describes as 'a vicious circle of amplification'.

The 'left realism' sociologists Leo and Young, surveying the 1980s and 1990s, believe that young AC men are the group MOST AT RISK of being criminalised - because of relative deprivation or poverty. There is a lack of fit between what they feel they should reasonably expect in terms of jobs and material rewards, and what they experience - high levels of U and low paid jobs which seem to result from blocked opportunities and discrimination. This partly explains the growth of street crime, public disorder and drug-dealing among working class inner city AC men, who are the most deprived section of the working class. Similarly, Ellis Cashmore (1985) argued that government and local councils had become out of touch with the position of black youth, who suffered from economic insecurity, deprivation and enforced idleness. In a survey in Birmingham Cashmore found racism to be present in all classes and age groups,

Ethnic minorities are also the greatest victims of crime. In a typical year, there are about 9000 recorded racial attacks, though the true figure is estimated to be 20 times higher. Figures from the Metropolitan Police show that the murder rate for black victims is three times that for whites. Though AC people make up only 7% of London's population, 20% of murder victims are from this group.

In conclusion, this is a complex question. It would be dangerous to conclude that the over-representation of ethnic minorities in the official crime statistics was SIMPLY a reflection of relative poverty. As for 'recommendations for change', so much depends upon the causal emphasis. Depending on what you see as the key factor, you would then argue for one or more of: more police, magistrates and judges from ethnic minorities (on the basis of greater empathy); more sympathetic community policing; greater educational and employment opportunities for ethnic minorities; a greater emphasis upon integration and thus on citizenship programmes; and - of course - more accurate statistics!

I hope this is helpful.

1 student responses


Thank you very much for the advice. it was incredibly helpful. :-)

responded Apr 23, 2008 1:01:03 PM BST
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