The Criminal Process

The police have at their disposal powers to remand a suspect in custody after charging, or they may bail them to appear in court at a later date. Re-search suggests that black suspects were significantly more likely to be held at the police station prior to court than white suspects19. Phillips and brown (1998) found that the refusal of bail to be related to the ethnic origin of the suspect, even once offence type and previous convictions had been taken into account.

Being remanded in custody by the courts is a significant factor in the defendant receiving a custodial sentence if convicted. Therefore, it seems likely that police stereotyping of blacks during police processing contributes to their markedly lower rate of being granted police bail. POSSIBILITY OF BIAS OR APPLICATION OF NEUTRAL LEGAL FACTORS DISADVNTAGING THE BLACK PEOPLE It cannot be claimed that law enforcement and criminal process have the same impact on black and white people.

In the past, claims of unequal treatment have tended to be exaggerated, and hence to lack credibility. The finding of the Official Inquiry into the failure to apprehend the murderers of black London teenager Stephen Lawrence, that the Metropolitan Police embodies 'institutional racism', fits in with our belief that simply being young and black increases the probability that one will attract police suspicion. The extent to which this takes place is a matter of debate.

Bias against black people specifically in law enforcement and criminal justice process seems like the counterpart to a growing tendency from the late 1970s onwards for young black people to define their identity in opposition to the central structures of authority in British society. From the Notting Hill Carnival of 1978 onwards, there has been a succession of anti police riots, in which black people have always played a central role. Survey research shows that young black people are generally very hostile to the police and considerably more so than young white people( Skogan, 1990).

The pattern of offences for which black people were arrested and imprisoned is consistent with the theory that they tend to be the targets of proactive law enforcement. Also, there is some evidence of bias against black people at various stages. It can be argued that the high police stop rate of black people is justified by results (reported offences, arrests and prosecutions). With regard to sentencing, the leading study (Hood, 1992) did suggest some racial bias. But its measured effects were rather small, especially when compared with the effects of other variables.

There is no doubt that in some urban areas stop and search powers were used extensively. A survey by Tuck and Southgate in Moss Side21 found that one third of males aged 16-35 reported being stopped, searched and arrested in 1979-80, although the proportions were the same for blacks as for whites. If minorities or the inhabitants of particular localities were disproportionately the subjects of these powers, it is not surprising that resentment arose. Researches of 1990s discovered hostility to the police among black people.

At various points of criminal justice, black people are placed at a disadvantage by the application of apparently neutral criteria. The clearest examples are the influence of social background factor on the decision to prosecute rather than caution a juvenile (black children are less likely to have the stable family background that makes cautioning more likely); the influence of social background factors on sentencing and the lower sentencing tariff for suspects who plead not guilty.

The relationship between guilty plea and sentence accounts for a substantial part of the differences in rate of imprisonment between black and white people. Although some bias against black people has been demonstrated at several stages and although some apparently neutral criteria have been shown to work to the disadvantage of black people, the magnitude of these effects seems small compared with the stark contrast in rates of arrest and imprisonment between black and white people.

For example, pro-active law enforcement does target black people to some extent, but most clear-ups do not result from proactive law enforcement and most proactive law enforcement cannot be targeted on black people. Hence, the total effect of bias must be modest, especially in relation to the stark differences in rates of arrest and imprisonment between black and white people.


To conclude, it is possible that PACE may slowly be bringing about a degree of cultural change. An officer quoted by McConville et al expressed concern 'that a lot of young coppers were being taught to act by the book and having instinctive policing trained out of them'. 23 To put this another way, as a police inspector did, 'there is a need to change police culture away from the negative stereotype image of a young black African-Caribeean as an offender'.

The experience of the NACRO experiment suggests that limited change can happen, but only with constant reinforcement, not only in relation to what the rules are, but also in relation to the effects of adhering to them or not.


1. Ben Bowling & Coretta Phillips; Racism, Crime and Justice, Longman series, 2000 Chapter 6- Policing, page 128-167,Chapter 7- Prosecution and sentencing, p. 168-191 2. A. Ashworth, The Criminal Process (2nd Ed) 3. D. Dixon, Law in Policing 4. M. Maguire et al (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (2nd Ed) 5. R. Reiner, The Politics of the Police (3rd Ed)