Report finds ‘Joint Enterprise’ rules target young black men

A survey of nearly 250 serving prisoners convicted under joint enterprise provisions has found evidence that black and minority ethnic people are serving long prison sentences because of unfair and racist criminal justice practices. The survey results are contained in a new report published today by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies.

Dangerous Associations tracks the complex process of criminalisation through which black and minority ethnic people are unfairly identified by the police as members of dangerous gangs. This apparent ‘gang’ affiliation’ is used to secure convictions, under joint enterprise provisions, for offences they have not committed. Dangerous associations also finds evidence that it is black and minority ethnic defendants who bear the brunt of joint enterprise prosecutions. The report offers a troubling exposé of the use of collective punishment against black and minority ethnic people, based on racism, rumour and innuendo.

Among the recommendations are:

• A rethink of the use of racist ‘gang’ stereotyping in the policing of serious violence.
• Greater transparency in the use of joint enterprise, through the production and publication of official statistics on the charging and prosecution in relation to joint enterprise, including information on the age, gender and ethnicity of defendants.

Will McMahon, Deputy Director at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said:

‘Prosecutions under joint enterprise all too often seem to involve a dangerous cocktail of innuendo, hearsay and racism. If you have a black skin you are much more likely to be convicted under that law. This report shows that a large number of people may have been given long sentences for offences they did not commit. Regardless of ethnicity, this is an affront to justice.  An urgent review is needed’.

Patrick Williams, lead author on the report said:

‘Serious violence affects all communities irrespective of ‘race’ and ethnicity, class, gender and age.  Our research suggests that the ongoing preoccupation with the gang results in the unwarranted targeting and policing of young black men, which diverts attention away from the wider problem of serious violence throughout England and Wales.  The survey responses reveal the human tragedy of young lives disrupted and damaged by the indiscriminate use of collective punishments as currently practiced through the doctrine of joint enterprise’.

Gloria Morrison, Campaign Co-ordinator at JENGbA, which campaigns for reform of joint enterprise laws, said:

‘Joint Enterprise is a common law used against common people and makes no common sense. This lazy law allows for lazy policing and is the perfect tool for lazy prosecutors. Its continued use has undermined the British legal system to the point that a defendant is now guilty until they can prove themselves innocent. People are serving life sentences for crimes they have not actually committed’.