Justice - ethnicity research and data priorities: academic/researchers survey results

Survey results from academics and researchers in Scotland about their experience of, and priorities around, research and data on ethnicity and justice. Conducted on behalf of the Cross Justice Working Group on Race Data and Evidence.

Section 1: Experience of research around ethnicity and justice and any plans for future research

Respondents were asked about their experience of research around ethnicity and justice. Table 2 shows that the majority of respondents said they had done previous research (62%) and were currently undertaking research in this area (62%). Just over half (52%) said that they hoped to undertake such research in the near future, and only 5% said that they had not been involved in any such research.

Table 2: Experience of research around ethnicity and justice
Experience of research around ethnicity and justice Percent
Previous research 62%
Current/ongoing research 62%
Hope to undertake such research in the near future 52%
Have not been involved in such research 5%
Other, please specify 0%
N 21

Respondents were asked to provide a brief outline of their previous, current, or future research and were asked to indicate which topic areas it fitted under from a list of topics from the research audit (Table 3). The topic most commonly researched was “experience of crime and feelings of safety”, with over three-quarters (78%) of respondents who answered this question saying that their research related to this. “Police” was the next most commonly researched topic area with over half (61%) selecting this. Around one fifth (22%) said their research related to “courts”.

Topics that were the least likely to be selected as research topics were “post–prison activities and processes” with no respondents selecting this and “civil justice” and “non-custodial sentences” (6% each).

Around one fifth (22%) said their research related to “other” topics, which included topics such as youth crime and experiences of victims and witnesses.

Table 3: Previous, current or future research topics
Topic Percent
Experience of crime and feelings of safety (e.g. minority ethnic communities experiences of crime, feelings of safety, types of crime experienced etc.) 78%
Police (e.g. minority ethnic communities interactions and experiences with the police, direct measures issued by police, arrests, stop and search, diversity within the police, institutional racism etc. ) 61%
Courts (e.g. levels of jurisdiction, plea, proceeds to trial or resolved before trial, bail and remand, Fiscal direct measures, access to Legal Aid, juries, appeals, diversity within the Courts Service, experience of racism within the courts service, language barriers etc.) 22%
Other, please specify 22%
Prevention and early intervention activities (e.g. for those at risk of offending or who have offended, to prevent them entering the criminal justice system etc.) 11%
Custodial sentences (e.g. factors influencing likelihood of receiving a custodial sentence, experience of prison, diversity of workforce, experience of racism etc.) 11%
Re-offending, re-imprisonment (e.g. what works to reduce re-offending, factors influencing likelihood of re-offending or re-imprisonment etc.) 11%
Non-custodial sentences (e.g. community payback order; deferred sentence, compensation order, fine; or admonishment, factors influencing likelihood of receiving a non-custodial sentence, breaches and outcomes of breaches, how compliance is supported, diversity of workforce, experience of racism etc.) 6%
Civil justice (e.g. relating to the pre-court process; remedies, alternative dispute resolution, Family Law, Tribunals, access to legal representation and Legal Aid etc.) 6%
Post–Prison activities and processes (e.g. release, licencing / parole conditions, support, rehabilitation of offenders, diversity of workforce, experience of racism etc.) 0%
N 18

Nearly all respondents, 20 out of 21, provided information about their previous, current, or future projects. A detailed description of these projects is included as a separate “mapping” report.

Sixteen respondents provided their contact details and gave consent to be contacted in future to provide further information about the projects they described.

Obstacles to carrying out research around ethnicity and justice

Fifteen respondents spoke about obstacles they had faced, or were aware of in relation to carrying out research around ethnicity and justice. The majority of the comments received related to issues with data, others focussed on participation in research and how questions were asked, and others referred to issues with the research process more broadly.

Obstacles relating to data

The most commonly listed obstacle was the lack of existing data, research and knowledge to build on. This lack of available data included specific comments relating to a lack of accessible prison statistics broken down by key demographics; a lack of individual level justice data for research; and that it can be hard to identify “good” data sets.

“The primary issue in drafting the chapter was a lack of available data, and the absence of research evidence. Much that would be routine in other jurisdictions is simply not routinely collected or collated in Scotland” - Academic/researcher based at a Scottish Institution

Other data-related obstacles highlighted included the small population size of minority ethnic communities within the Scottish population in general and specifically within responses to national population surveys such as the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS), resulting in large confidence intervals, and making it hard to draw robust conclusion.

“Difficult to conduct reliable and non-disclosive analysis at anything other than highly aggregated level (e.g. white versus non-white, or white, black, Asian and other).” - Academic/researcher based at a Scottish Institution

The small population size also fed into another of the obstacles mentioned, which was the “coarse” categorisations of ethnicity data and the inability to disaggregate into more nuanced categories.

Another obstacle mentioned relating to data was that ethnicity population data is out of date as it is based on 10 year old census data, and there is a lack of alternative population data sources.

Obstacles relating to participation in research and how questions are asked

Some respondents cited obstacles relating to participation in research, with reference to both the additional barriers minority ethnic communities might face in participating, and also a “nervousness” from white participants who don’t know much about the topic of race. It was mentioned that some members of minority ethnic communities might feel “resentful” being asked questions relating to their country of origin.

“It is more vital than ever for marginalised communities to take part in research and share their experiences, however there are obstacles due to those communities having been excluded previously. There should be a focus on building trust and confidence in research findings and how they will be used to actually affect change.” - Academic/researcher not at a Scottish Institution

Additional obstacles mentioned in relation to how questions are asked, included issues relating to the “head of household” answering the questions in surveys, and the ethnicity categories which are used in surveys.

Obstacles relating to the research process

A lack of funding to carry out research was mentioned, as were issues with gatekeepers who made it harder to access participants or data. One respondent mentioned the impact that COVID-19 had had on research access. Language issues were also mentioned as a potential barrier.

Suggested solutions to overcome obstacles

There were suggestions that more priority and funding needed to be given to issues around ethnicity and justice research in order to drive this agenda forward. Suggestions for actions which could increase the priority given to ethnicity and justice research included: the setting up of a national group to look at the various aspects of ethnicity and justice research in Scotland; a programme of work which aims to bring together different sources of data and build an accurate and up-to-date profile of minority ethnic communities; more funding; and more engagement around race across disciplines.

“Scotland has historically not 'seen' race as a significant issue … so data on racialised differences in policing, crime, safety, and prosecution etc. have not been routinised… Dedicated attention, funding and a coalition of the willing seem like a good start.” - Academic/researcher based at a Scottish Institution

The most commonly suggested solution to the obstacles mentioned was a call to increase the availability of ethnicity data. This included requests for: more detailed data sets to be made public; for data to be available in a way that allows for data linkage with administrative data; for the SG to continue its work improving the accessibility of prison statistics; for the quality of ethnicity data to be improved, and include migration status; and to encourage organisations to publish demographic data.

There were also suggestions related to overcoming the issue of small minority ethnic sample sizes in the SCJS, such as including a minority ethnic boost, and exploring other potential options such as modelling based on combining responses from both the SCJS and the Crime Survey in England and Wales to provide a larger minority ethnic sample.

The importance of building relationships and trust with minority ethnic communities, co-producing research, and making the voices of those with lived experience central was highlighted. As was the need to ensure research is carried out in a way which is safe, culturally appropriate, and mindful of the barriers or emotional burden participants might face, and how to minimise these. It was suggested that language and cultural support might be required, as well as training for interviewers on how to ask questions.

“Centre the voices of people with lived experience: empower and fund organisations that are Black and minority ethnic led to lead and shape this work.” - Academic /researcher not at a Scottish Institution

The respondent who said that the ethnicity classifications used was an obstacle suggested that this could be overcome by asking respondents to describe their ethnicity in their own words. The respondent who said that the impact of COVID had been an obstacle in terms of research access suggested that time and strategies for recovery were required.


Email: Justice_Analysts@gov.scot

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