Earning trust: Improving criminal justice outcomes for ethnic minorities

December 15, 2021

This paper discusses some of the issues facing ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system, and how policymakers might improve their outcomes – particularly by increasing their trust in the system.


  • Ethnic minorities are over-represented within the criminal justice system, and on some key measures, disparities are getting worse.
  • There are many factors that contribute to such inequalities, but our discussion focuses on:
    • The greater willingness of White defendants to plead guilty to charges, which gives them access to ‘out of court disposals’ rather than prosecution and shorter sentences.
    • Under-representation of ethnic minorities within criminal justice professions.
    • Detention of younger minorities, especially on remand.
  • Fundamentally, the issue is one of trust – the reluctance of ethnic minority defendants to trust in the criminal justice system, but also the system’s failure to trust communities and defendants.


No single measure on its own can strengthen trust and eliminate ethnic disparities within the system, but policymakers should explore:

  1. Increasing the use of out of court disposals, by removing the requirement to plead guilty in order to be eligible for them. This may require changes to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
  2. Focused efforts to recruit more ethnic minority magistrates and judges.
  3. Reducing the detention of young ethnic minorities, especially on remand.
  4. Reviewing the process of legal advice for ethnic minority defendants.