Book Reviews Our library Race, Crime and Justice Research skills

Discovering disparages: Using the Resource Centre to uncover BME experiences in the criminal justice system

The final post in our Race and Crime series comes from Shu Chee: A guideline for students researching disparages in sentencing, and how the Race Relations Resource Centre’s Criminal Justice collection can help.

Your task: Write an essay on the racial disparities in trial and sentencing.

So it’s assessment time again; you have organised your lecture notes, exploited Google Scholar and the Westlaw database, gone through dozens of journal articles…and yet you just can’t seem to begin writing. Why are all my readings all over the place? Do I have sufficient evidence supporting claims of ‘lighter skin, lighter sentence’? Are my sources reliable and relevant?

This is where the Criminal Justice library collection at the Race Relations Resource Centre can come in handy. With over three shelves of important and rare publications dedicated to the study of ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system, it amasses a historical records of the differential treatment of Black and minority ethnic (BME) people, providing valuable resources for students and general readers*.

Here’s how you can generate an A+ essay using the Resource Centre’s collection!**:

the image shows a pile of books, the cover of the top book is blue and has the the title A Question of JudgementFirst, equip yourself with the basics. You need to understand the anti-discriminatory legislation that protects the rights of BME defendants and have an overall picture of their treatment in the justice system. A Question of Judgement: Race and Sentencing by Roger Hood is a good starting point. It offers a brief outline of the 1976 Race Relations Act and explores how unlawful sentencing can occur when sentences fall beyond the scope of such legislation. It also provides a summary of the patterns of sentencing for white and BME offenders, detailing the differences seen in court judgements and length of sentences for offences of similar gravity.

Next, you need evidence of disparages in the sentencing of BME offenders. Think statistics. The good news is that the relevant facts and figures can all be found in the various Home Office publications at the Resource Centre. For example, Ethnic Minority Defendants and the Right to Elect Jury Trial by Lee Bridges, Satnam Choongh and Mike McVonville examines the data drawn from a major empirical examination of the sentencing procedures of ethnic minority defendants. Race and the Criminal Justice System 1991 – 1994 provides a statistical overview the racial discrimination against BME individuals as suspects, defendants awaiting trials and offenders receiving sentences.

While statistics are telling, it is equally important to understand the views of the defendants – did they believe that race played a part in sentencing? This is covered in A Fair Hearing? Ethnic Minorities in the Criminal Courts by Stephen Shute, Roger Hood and Florence Seemungal, which sums up the experiences of BME defendants in English courts. Not only does the book investigate the extent to which BME defendants perceive their unfair treatment to be the result of ethnic bias, it also looks at how the perceived racial bias affected their confidence in the justice system. The added bonus? This book also includes observations of cases and interviews with over a thousand witnesses, court staff, lawyers and judges to provide an objective and rounded perspective of this issue.

Now that you are well backed up by quantitative and qualitative data, it’s time to look into specific cases of unlawful sentencing of BME defendants. While it may be a little tricky to access these confidential files online, the Resource Centre holds rare publications, such as Addressing Equality and Diversity in the Crown Prosecution Service, that highlight cases from the 1990s and 2000s and the lessons to be drawn from them. Delving deeper into the into racial disparages and building an awareness of intersectionality, Young Black People and the Juvenile Justice System also allows you to develop an understanding of the complexity surrounding race, gender and age of offenders, and their resulting sentences.

Combine all the above findings and it might just be the magical formula for a great piece of research work!

*The Criminal Justice collection also includes resources on other ethnic minority issues, including hate crimes, police and probation practices, and deaths in custody
**Excellent grades not guaranteed! But smart application of these guidelines will help you take your studies to new places.

By aiucentre

An open access library specialising in the study of race, ethnicity and migration. Part of the University of Manchester and based at Manchester Central Library.

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