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Old data obscures race bias in criminal justice

29th Mar 2017

Old data makes understanding causes of racial bias in the criminal justice system difficult, a report by The Centre for Justice Innovation has concluded. This has created a ‘trust deficit’ for black and minority ethnic defendants, which could lead to them receiving more severe sentences as they are less likely to plead guilty.

The report continues to say that perceptions of unfair treatment in the court makes BAME defendants more likely to reoffend. This includes increased likelihood that their cases will be heard in a Crown court, and the fact they are more likely to go to custody.

Certain categories of crime show racial disparity. There are 141 black men in prison for every 100 white men, and 227 black women to every white women, when it comes to drugs offences.

However, existing evidence on racial disparity highlights other significant data gaps.

There is no publicly available data on magistrates’ court decisions around remand or plea rates that takes account of ethnicity and no publicly available data on legal representation and ethnicity at all.The work conducted on perceptions of fairness, though seminal in its day, is now relatively dated. It is not possible to know whether perceptions of BAME defendants have changed measurably in the intervening decade, as there has been no recent attempt to update it,’ says the report.

The absence of data is ‘not an acceptable state of affairs’, says Ismet Rawat, president of the Association of Muslim Lawyers.

‘BAME defendants today are more aware of and more sensitised to discrimination. They are aware that they are far more likely to be stopped and searched, that they are far more likely to be charged, and that they are far more likely to be sent to prison than their white counterparts, and once there, far more likely to be discriminated against.’