The profiles of people in prison and the crimes they have committed have long fascinated sociologists. Many people have their own assumptions of what a criminal looks like, how he/she behaves, what background they have etc. This belief that you can ‘tell’ a criminal just by looking at him/her goes back to the work of Lombroso who studied criminals in the C19th.
Cesare Lombroso (November 6th, 1835 – October 19th, 1909) was the founder of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology. Lombroso rejected the established Classical School, which held that crime was a characteristic trait of human nature and that rational choices were the foundation of behaviour.
If criminality was inherited, then Lombroso proposed that the ‘born criminal’ could be distinguished by physical atavistic stigmata, such as: large jaws, forward projection of jaw; low sloping forehead; high cheekbones; flattened or upturned nose; handle-shaped ears; hawk-like noses or fleshy lips; hard shifty eyes; scanty beard or baldness; insensitivity to pain and long arms relative to lower limbs.
In 2008/09, there were over seven times more ‘Stop and Searches’ of black people per head of population than of white people in the UK, and over twice as many ‘Stop and Searches’ per head of population of Asian people and people of mixed ethnicity. The Metropolitan Police Service area accounts for 14% of the population of England and Wales yet 42% of ‘Stop and Searches’ are carried out by the Metropolitan Police Service. The number of ‘Stop and Searches’ increased across all ethnic groups in each year between 2004/05 and 2008/09. The number of white people being stopped and searched increased by just under 30% between 2004/05 and 2008/09, while the number of Black and Asian people being Stopped and Searched increased by over 70%.
A higher percentage of adults and juveniles in the black and mixed ethnic (BME) groups were sentenced to immediate custody than in the white ethnic group. Research for the Ministry of Justice has indicated that people from BME backgrounds are more likely to plead not guilty and be tried (Thomas, 2010).
Yet the highest percentage increase in those given a prison sentence between 2005 and 2009 was White British – a jump from 56.8% of the prison population to 60.8%. In the same time span, Black British figures went up from 11.2% to 12.0%; the figure for Asians increased from 4.6% to 6.0%; the figures for mixed race went up from 2.2% to 2.9% while the figure for “Chinese and other ethnic groups” went from 0.9% to 1.4%.
In 2009, the offences that led to a court conviction were:
Violence against the person: 43,195 convicted (88.4% male + 11.6% female)
Sex Offences: 5,092 convicted (98.5% male + 1.5% female)
Burglary: 22,758 convicted (95.7% male + 4.3% female)
Robbery: 8,663 convicted (91.1% male + 8.9% female)
Theft/Handling stolen goods: 111,398 convicted (78.1% male + 21.9% female)
Fraud: 20,932 convicted (70.4% male + 29.6% female)
Criminal damage: 7,831 convicted (88.5% male + 11.5% female)
Drugs offences: 56,620 convicted (91.6% male + 8.4% female)
However, the belief that all crimes are being committed by young people is not held out by the statistics as the following show:
Violence against the person: 15.8% under the age of 18; 84.2% over the age of 18
Sex Offences: 9.9% under the age of 18; 90.1% over the age of 18
Burglary: 23.6% under the age of 18; 76.4% over the age of 18
Robbery: 41.7% under the age of 18; 58.3% over the age of 18
Theft/Handling stolen goods: 13.1% under the age of 18; 86.9% over the age of 18
Fraud: 2.7% under the age of 18; 97.3% over the age of 18
Criminal damage: 24.2% under the age of 18; 75.8% over the age of 18
Drugs offences: 11.1% under the age of 18; 88.9% over the age of 18
In 2009, there were 326,375 indictable offences in the UK with an 85% (male) 15% (female) gender split. Age wise this figure was split into 13.5% under the age of 18 with 86.5% over the age of 18.
The total number of offences in the UK for 2009 (including those dealt with outside of court) was 1,397,310 with a gender split of 77.5% (male) and 22.5% (female). Age wise this figure was split into 5.8% under the age of 18 with 94.2% over the age of 18.
The figures do show that the UK is not overrun by feral gangs of youths heaping misery upon the population. Clearly such gangs do exist but what part does the media play in creating a ‘moral panic’ about such gangs? The statistics show that between 2008 and 2009 the number of young people brought before the courts actually fell from 88,375 (2008) to 81,490 (2009) - a fall of 7.8% in one year. Right realists believe this is because of a system that allows the police to deal with many offenders and ‘letting them off lightly’ with a caution so that they never come before a court. Left realists claim that the media stigmatize youths as being a group that commit masses of criminal offences but that the facts simply do hold bear this out. They claim that the 2011 city riots and looting in English cities were more ‘sexed up’ by the tabloid media with their concentration on the youths involved in the riots. It was only later when cases came to court that there was a realization that people over the age of 21 were involved (and some were much older) and as such were classed as adults. In fact it is adult crime where there has been an increase in recent years. In 2008 adults (people over 21) committed crimes 1,127,987 crimes and in 2009 they committed 1,173,936 crimes - an increase of 4.1%.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex