Dangerous associations: Joint enterprise, gangs and racism

Patrick Williams and Becky Clarke
Monday, 25 January 2016

This study examines the processes of criminalisation that contribute to unequal outcomes for young Black, Asian and Minority ethnic people. It has been written by Patrick Williams and Becky Clarke of Manchester Metropolitan University.

The research draws on a survey of nearly 250 serving prisoners convicted under joint enterprise provisions. It tracks the complex process of criminalisation through which black and minority ethnic people are unfairly identified by the police as members of dangerous gangs.

More than three-quarters of the black and minority ethnic prisoners reported that the prosecution claimed that they were members of a ‘gang’, compared to only 39 percent of white prisoners. This apparent ‘gang’ affiliation’ is used to secure convictions, under joint enterprise provisions, for offences they have not committed.

The report also discusses police gang databases in Manchester, London and Nottingham, which claim to record gang association. These lists include people who ‘have no proven convictions and… those who have been assessed by criminal justice professionals as posing minimal risk’. They are also dominated by black and minority ethnic people, as a result of racial stereotyping. 

Dangerous associations: Joint enterprise, gangs and racism also forms part of the authors’ response to a call by the House of Commons Justice Committee for a rigorous consideration of the possible relationship between the disproportionate application of collective punishments/sanctions and in particular, the effect of joint enterprise on black and minority ethnic individuals and groups.

The report concludes that, for all its injustices, the process of joint enterprise prosecution is not intended to be discriminatory. But in practice, young black and minority ethnic people are disproportionately at the receiving end of a series of criminal justice practices, starting with police gang databases and concluding with disproportionate joint enterprise convictions.

Selected media coverage

  • ITV, 'MPs to discuss claims of racism in joint enterprise convictions'
  • The Justice Gap 'Joint enterprise prosecutions too often involve "dangerous cocktail of innuendo, hearsay and racism"’
  • Police Oracle 'MPs to hear calls for joint enterprise law to be overhauled
  • Police Professional 'Research questions "disproportionate" convictions under joint enterprise'
  • The barrister 'Government and parliament must act on injustices of joint enterprise convictions'
  • 'Joint enterprise and the criminalisation of young black men'