A study of Crown Courts in London and Birmingham (McConville and Baldwin 1982) came to the conclusion that: "There appear to be no evidence of racial discrimination in sentencing in the Crown Court. The implication is that defendants are treated equally once they attain the status of convicted persons". A more recent study in two Magistrates' Courts found some differences in sentencing. Blacks were less likely to receive a probation order but more likely to receive a community service order that whites.
Interestingly, black offenders were also less likely to be given a sentence of imprisonment, however, this study also points out that: "There is a higher possibility that a coloured attacker will cause no injury that a white attacker" (Home Office study Stevens and Willis 1979). In common with previous research this study points to the earlier stages of the criminal process as a source of discrimination. In 1982 the Home Office established an ethnic monitoring system of the prison population.
This showed that the proportion of ethnic minority groups is higher than their representation in the population as a whole; 12% for male young offenders and 11. 5% for adult males, compared with 6% and 5% respectively in the general population. Findings showed that black prisoners had fewer previous convictions, and were more likely to be remanded in custody. The prison Department has taken steps in this direction by requiring the appointment of race relation liaison officers. The Probation services seem to follow the same indications (Whitehouse 1978).
Evidence that black people are less likely to receive a probation order comes from the study by Mair (1986). The study by Crow and Cove (1984) also tends in the same direction. However, one of the reasons for ethnic minority clients figuring less prominently on non-custodial cases may be that the predominantly white service is unable to meet the demands of the black offenders The prison and probation systems are at the end of the Criminal Justice Process and the disproportionately high number of black prisoners seems to be the result of what occurs at earlier stages of the process.
However, in order to redress the problem anti-racist policies need to be pursued by the courts, probation services and the prison service as much as by the police. Although some individuals and agencies have begun conducting local surveys, the real need is for a comprehensive research project to be carried out rather than relying on pieces of data from different prevalently white sources. The following paragraphs will be based upon the journal article, "A Study Of Sentencing In The Leeds Magistrates' Courts" 'The Treatment of Ethnic Minority and White Offenders' written by Imogen Brown and Roy Hullin.
This study is based as the title suggests in Leeds and is therefore not proportional to the whole population or the Home Office research. It is, however, interesting and does give the reader an idea on how white people and people from ethnic backgrounds are dealt with in a major city. I would first of all like to present an overview of the article in an attempt to clarify the latter findings; Leeds contains a population of Afro-Caribbean and Asian People that is higher than the average general population in Great Britain.
Some variations may well exist in the police and CPS practices and in the attitudes of Magistrate benches throughout the country, however, the study makes a useful contribution to the debate, the information received is not perfect but is the best on offer. The definition that is given to custodial sentencing in this journal is rather broader then that given in larger surveys. There is, however, one weakness in the methodology used, a record of the length of the custodial sentences given has not been kept. The Hudson 1989 findings are not repeated in this survey.
One area where different treatment towards the ethnic groups is undeniable, namely, committal to trial, especially in drug related offences. Much more detail regarding circumstances of the offence is needed opening up the possibility of more research. A closer examination is also needed as to why Afro-Caribbeans were greatly over represented in the sample. More up to date census data is clearly needed. There is a strong suggestion from this work that Afro-caribbeans were offending at a much younger age than whites. Crowe and Cove (1984) found no differences in patterns of crime…
this survey did! It should also be noted that the reporting of incidents/offences varies among ethnic groups. The survey took place in 1988 and involved three thousand seven hundred defendants. It took place to determine whether any racial bias was apparent in the treatment of Afro-Caribbean and Asian defendants compared to white ones. There were no overall differences in the sentencing patterns, however, significantly more defendants of Afro-Caribbean origins did receive custodial sentences. It was claimed that this variation was accounted for through the criminal records of the defendants.
Following this there was no apparent difference in the passing of non-custodial sentences, however significantly more Afro-Caribbean defendants were being committed to the Crown Court for Trial by Jury. The reported research into potential racial discrimination, in the field of sentencing, presents me with a confusing picture. According to this journal, research conducted by the Home Office in 1989, indicated that Ethnic minorities were over represented in prison, 5. 6% as an average over three years 1985 – 7.
Yet looking at the three studies in this journal, carried out by McConville & Baldwin (1982), Crow and Cove (1984) and Moxon (1988), it suggests that whatever the explanation for ethnic over representation it is not down to bias on the part of sentences. McConville & Baldwin take the view that, ' Defendants are treated equally once they attain the status of convicted persons; not necessarily fairly or appropriately but equally. ' Crow and Cove took a similar view, ' In Criminal Justice terms, the different ethnic groups present similar patterns of crime, their cases are handled in a similar way and the sentences they are given are similar.
' And finally Moxon, yet again, a similar conclusion, 'overall differences in the use of custody were accounted for by differences in offence and criminal record. ' Hudson, on the other hand, produced different results, he conducted a survey of eight thousand sentencing decisions in fourteen Magistrates and Crown Courts in Greater London. "There remains some residual discrimination which resulted in a custody rate of one in ten West Indian males but only one in twenty seven white males. " Some of the above conflict may be explained by inadequate sampling or analysis techniques. Leeds attempts to clarify the picture:
All defendants sentenced or committed for trial by Leeds (adult) Magistrates' Court, for an offence triable either way, during a nine month period, April – December 1988, were included in the original sample. But excluded from the final sample for analytical purposes were those defendants not resident within the boundaries of the Leeds Metropolitan District. This is so that the percentages by each ethnic minority might be directly compared with the know distribution within Leeds. For each offence the Clerk of Court completed a survey form containing the following; (a) Seriousness of the offence.
(b) most serious disposal from immediate imprisonment through to discharge/other. (c) sex. (d) age. (e) race. (f) employment status. (g) past record. (h) area of residence. If the defendant had a past record five further items of information were extracted; (I) number of previous offences. (j) number of previous convictions. (k) three most serious disposals for same offence. (l) number of previous custodial sentences on record. (m) most sever previous sentence imposed. From this survey thirteen percent of white offenders received a custodial sentence, sixteen percent of Afro-Caribbean and only six percent of Asians.
There were no significant differences between white and ethnic females, however, more Afro-Caribbean females received custodial sentences than white females, twenty eight percent compared to six percent. Similar proportions of white, Asian and Afro-Caribbean offenders received a community service order, however, white offenders received slightly more probation orders. Afro-Caribbean's were given more discharges (20%) than whites (16%), Asians (13%). Finally the Magistrates court committed thirty one percent of Afro-Caribbean's to the Crown Court and only twenty two and twenty four percent of whites and Asians respectively.
At the end of the journal it is worth mentioning that there were two major findings; first, the failure to find any overall discrimination in treatment, in terms either of custodial sentencing or of the range of non custodial alternatives. This adds further weight to the finding by McConville & Baldwin (1982), Crow and Cove (1984) and Moxon (1988). Second, the confirmation that greater proportions of Afro-Caribbeans are committed to the Crown Court for trial does point to the need for a closer examination of this aspect of the criminal justice system.
(A Study of Sentencing In The Leeds Magistrates Courts, pp52 – 3). By way of conclusion I believe, which the research indicates, that the sentencing of individuals is not the problem! In the nineteen eighties, which the above paragraphs are referring to, there was little if no difference between the sentencing patterns of different ethnic groups. In the nineteen nineties and beyond the research conducted by the Home Office shows that the ethnic minority groups are being sentenced more leniently. So why is there such a fuss over ethnic representation in the Criminal justice process?
As we have seen the problem is before the court process, it lies with the police. As mentioned above a young black male is five times more likely to be stopped by the police. Clearly the courts are now trying to redress this imbalance by 'letting them off' in court. In my opinion this is no way to enter the twenty first century, the research carried out in the past is; inaccurate, disproportionate and unclear! We need to introduce schemes on large scales and stop racial bias before it enters the Criminal Justice Process!