Black people and criminal justice in England and Wales: a study on bail

Williams, Kadifa (2000). Black people and criminal justice in England and Wales: a study on bail. PhD thesis The Open University.



The disproportionate rate of adverse police-black encounters, instances of unfair and unequal treatment by the police, in addition to the over-representation of black people in the total and remand prison population raises questions about the nature and extent of discrimination and racism in the criminal justice system. Reasons for the apparent differential treatment of black people in the criminal justice process remain contested. Much research on 'race' and criminal justice issues has produced contradictory findings and attempts to isolate a 'race' effect in criminal justice decision-making has been difficult. Using both quantitative and qualitative methods, this thesis explores issues of 'race', racism and criminal justice focusing on bail and remand. From a statistical analysis of data from a bail survey at two north London magistrates' courts, it is argued that black males are remanded in custody at a higher rate than their white counterparts and overrepresented among those remanded in custody when compared to their proportion in the general population. Overall, even when significant factors such as seriousness of offence and age are taken into account, unexplained racial differences in bail decision-making remain. An analysis of qualitative data from black defendants and criminal justice practitioners supports the proposition that discrimination operates within the bail system and extends this argument to other stages of the criminal justice process.

This thesis also examines how issues of racism and criminal justice have been 'explained' theoretically. From a critical examination of key theoretical positions of neoconservatism, critical criminology and left realism, it is argued that criminological theorising may never be able to fully 'explain' issues of racial discrimination. It is further argued that notwithstanding the important insights to the debate put forward by critical criminology, it still does not go far enough in such 'explanations', while neo-conservatism and left realism paint a distorted picture. Drawing on several existing themes from critical criminology, the notion of 'virtual criminality' is suggested as a way forward.

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