Criminal justice system statistics

These statistics have been collated from a variety of different sources, which have differing ways of categorising and describing ‘race’ and ethnicity. (For example, some sources differentiate between particular black ‘groups’ whilst others do not. Some sources may just use the term Asian, others may differentiate between different Asian groups or different religious groups.) Where we have used other organisations’ statistics, we have followed the categorisation/names used by them – which means that there may be inconsistencies in terminology within and between pages

The criminal justice system

People from BME communities are over-represented at almost all stages of the criminal justice process, disproportionately targeted by the police, more likely to be imprisoned and more likely to be imprisoned for longer than white British people.

Stop and search

People from BME groups are more likely to stopped-and-searched than white British people. The disparity differs between different stop-and-search powers. In 2012, research indicated that police are 28 times more likely to use ‘Section 60’ stop-and-search powers (where officers do not require suspicion of having being involved in a crime) against black people than white people.

Analysis of all stop and searches in 2010-2011 indicated that black people are seven times as likely, and Asians twice as likely as white people to be stopped-and-searched by the police. Stop and search practices are frequently ineffective. More than 90 per cent do not lead to an arrest.[1]


In 2009/10 there were 1,386,030 arrests in England and Wales, compared to 1,429,785 in 2005/06. The overall number of arrests in this period consequently decreased and, within this, the number of people from a white group decreased. However, the number of people arrested from BME communities increased, by 5 per cent for black people and 13 per cent for Asian people.

In 2009/10 black people were 3.3 times more likely to be arrested than white people. Those from a mixed ethnic group were 2.3 times more likely to be arrested than white people.

According to the organisation Joint Enterprise – Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA), the joint enterprise doctrine (whereby people can be arrested and convicted of an offence, despite not having committed it, if they knew or are seen to have encouraged its act) is disproportionately applied against BME communities. Of 256 JENGbA was working with in 2011, 56 per cent were from BME communities.[2]


Certain BME groups are more likely than the white group to be sentenced to immediate custody for serious offences which can be tried in Crown Court (indictable offences). In 2010, 23 per cent of the white group convicted for indictable offences were sentenced to immediate custody, 27 per cent of Black people and 29 per cent of Asian people.

A study in 2011, based on an analysis of over one million court records found that black offenders were 44 per cent more likely than white offenders to be given a prison sentence for driving offences, 38 per cent more likely for public order offences or possession of a weapon and 27 per cent more likely for possession of drugs. Asian people were 19 per cent more likely than white people to be given a prison sentence for shoplifting and 41 per cent more likely for drugs offences.[1]


BME groups are significantly over-represented in the prison system, with over 25 per cent of the overall prison population from a BME background. In 2011, Black or Black British people made up 13.4 per cent of the prison population. Asian or Asian British people made up 7.4 per cent of the prison population. White British people made up 74.3 per cent of the prison population.[3]

Foreign national prisoners

Frequently, foreign nationals in the criminal justice system are imprisoned; sometimes for criminal offences but often for specially created offences for undocumented migrants. In 1995, there were 4,089 foreign national prisoners in England and Wales and 10,592 at the end of 2012.[4] About 13 per cent of those in prison in England and Wales are foreign nationals.

Young people in custody

In 2012, the number of children in the secure estate (young offender institutions, secure children’s homes and secure training centres) was 1,596. Of these, 37 per cent were from BME communities. Between October 2011 and 2012, the overall number of children in custody decreased by 21 per cent, but the number of BME children increased by 3 per cent. [5]

Employment in the criminal justice system

Despite being over-represented in most stages of the criminal justice process, people from BME communities are under-represented in senior positions of employment. In 2011:

  • 4 senior judges, out of 161, were known to be from a BME community.
  • 1 senior civil servant out of 52, working for the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) was known to be from a BME community.
  • 3 per cent of the senior police officers in England and Wales were from a BME community.[5]

 For more information see:

Runnymede Trust


Prisoners’ Advice Service

References:[1] Stopwatch, Stop and Search Factsheet (London, Stopwatch, 2012). [2] JENGbA [3] James Ball, Owen Boycott and Simon Rogers, ‘Race variation in jail sentences, study suggests’, Guardian (26 November 2011). [4] Gavin Berman, Prison population statistics (London, House of Commons, 2012). [5] Ibid.