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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .


Minorities, Migrants, and Crime
Ineke Haen Marshall ed

(London: Sage,1997)
249pp. index. ISBN 0-7619-0334-8.
Pb.: 0-7619-0335-6 17.99


Conflict between minority ethnic communities and the State in Western countries - the US and Europe - has been most evident in the clash between these communities and the criminal justice system. The over-representation of minority ethnic groups in terms of arrests and prison populations is well documented. Ineke Haen Marshall takes on the difficult task of comparing the political, cultural and legal variations of the US and number of European countries, to examine how issues of ethnicity and migration become closely linked with concern or involvement in crime.

The various contributors consider theories of citizenship, ethnicity, and migration in relations to minority ethnic groups and crime. Marshall believes that minority status is a thread that unites, migrants, foreigners and indigenous ethnic minorities, while crystallising the criminal justice systems negative approach to these groups. It is this concept of minority status which is said to transcend international differences, giving a perspective which builds a bridge from Europe to the US.

From her US perspective it quickly becomes clear that in terms of correlations between minority ethnic communities and crime, it is African-Americans, who are in severe conflict with the criminal justice system. Stark statistics such as 1/3rd of all African-American men aged between 20 to 29 are either in prison, on probation or on parole (page 3) set the tone. A combination of poverty, social exclusion, coupled with victimisation and racism at the hands of criminal justice agencies feeds white society's suspicions of blacks having a greater propensity to criminal activity.

In making comparisons with the US, it is European countries such as the United Kingdom and France, where the model of the predominately white state and its apparatus the police, courts and prisons coming into conflict with minority ethnic communities, particularly those of the African diaspora, be they from the Caribbean, North or Sub-Saharan Africa, holds good. It is no coincidence that these three countries were closely associated with the slave trade, the colonial project and post-colonial migration. The attendant theories of racial superiority, racial discrimination and social control, underpin poor relationships with the police and other criminal justice agencies.

However, the chapters on Spain, Italy, Sweden, undermine the model linking migration and minorities with being criminalised. In these countries it is recognised that a number of variables beyond minority status may impact of rates of offending, arrest and imprisonment. While it is evident that crime has not been racialised to the same extent as in the US or the UK or France.

Although a number of interesting comparisons between the US and Europe do emerge from this work, ultimately the `bridge between the US and Europe' is left only partially constructed.


Martin Todd, University of North London



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