This has been a bad year for people who care about the truth.  There was the Brexit Referendum.  Statistics and other so-called facts thrown around all over the place.  Poor old NHS!

Then the Americans had an election.  More of the same.  Lots.

More people should read my book How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics.  And think about it.  Everything I condemn in the book has been happening.

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And now, a report has been published this week saying that there are more black people than white people in prison in the UK in proportion to their numbers in the population as a whole.  It also says that black people seem to get longer sentences.

This information is interpreted as a sign hat there is discrimination in the Police and the Courts in their treatment of black people.

Of course, I could think of some people who would happily use these figures to ‘prove’ that black people are more likely to commit crimes than are white people, because they are inherently more criminally-minded.

I think both interpretations of the figures are dangerous and are examples of jumping to conclusions – the ones you had before you started.

How can they both be wrong?

There are many factors leading up to any individual’s incarceration and why some people are more likely to find themselves inside than others.

  • Were they innocent or guilty?
  • Were they unlucky to get caught?
  • Were they well served by their legal representatives?

Then there the factors causing people to commit crimes.

  • Individual.
  • Cultural.
  • Social.
  • Economic.

In particular, poor and uneducated people are more likely to commit crimes and more likely to be caught than richer and better educated people.  Black people tend to be poor and poorly educated.  They are also more likely to be the victims of crime.

Sentencing decisions are not simple and no two cases are exactly the same.  A non-custodial sentence may not be appropriate for a repeat offender, for someone who is unlikely to cooperate with the Probation Service, or who is of no fixed abode. We need to ask whether these pheomena are race-related and why.

Until we have gone into these questions of cause and effect and the interrelatedness of the different factors, we need to be very careful about drawing conclusions, especially if they reflect badly on either the judiciary or the black population.

Don’t be misled by statistics!