The Polish ‘crimewave’ in the UK?

DSC_0012 (2)

The crime–migration nexus, which is based on a popular view that migration contributes to a rise in crime, dominates the political debate on migration in many Western migrant destination countries (see Banks, 2008; Solivetti, 2005; Bianchi et al., 2008). Across Europe, foreign nationals are disproportionately represented in the prison particularly in Switzerland (73%), Luxembourg (72%), Greece (60%), Cyprus (53%), and Austria (50%) (Aitken, 2016). Unsurprisingly, the over-representation of migrants in the criminal justice system reinforces the commonly held notion of ‘foreign crimewave’ (Baker et al. 2012).

Therefore, given the fact that the experiences of Polish offenders in a foreign criminal justice system have been little documented as well as my own research interests I decided to take a closer look at the situation of Polish migrants in the English criminal justice system.

The latest census data indicates that 13.0% of residents in England and Wales were born abroad, and 7.4% were non-British nationals. The data for the year ending December 2014 showed that Polish migrants now constitute the largest minority group in the UK  – 853,000 (ONS, 2015). However, neither ‘criminality by Poles’ nor ‘respective sentencing patterns’ is possible to examine thoroughly as nationality is absent from many official criminal justice statistics. Waterhouse & Kerr (2014) and Baker et. al. (2012) observed that it is exceptionally problematic to identify European migrant groups as for that purpose the English criminal justice system uses the classification of ‘any other white background’. In consequence this is not viewed as an appropriate mechanism by which a reliable data collection process could be carried out.

There is a slightly different situation when it comes to the information on prison population in England & Wales. In March 2014, there were 10,649 foreign nationals from approximately 150 countries who are serving their sentence in English prisons. According to Home Office data, between 2013 and 2014, Poles along with the Irish and Jamaicans, where the largest foreign prison populations (8.5% of total foreign prison population). Although the number of Polish prisoners has been gradually increasing (see table below), one has to acknowledge the Polish population prevalence in the foreign community group as well as the following fact: between 1993 and 2014 the overall prison population in England and Wales increased by approximately 91% (40,000) (Prison Reform Trust, 2015). This indicates that any perceived ‘foreign crimewave’ must be analyzed along with the nature of penal policies of the migrant destination country.

2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14
Polish prisoners 682 780 862 898

It is really interesting to look at the relationship between the criminal justice system and a minority community as community confidence in the operation of justice institutions is associated with a better ‘legitimacy package’: higher levels of trust, willingness to report crime and work proactively with the justice agencies as well as comply with the law. Waterhouse & Kerr (2014) found that those from migrant communities might have higher confidence in the criminal justice system than the population as a whole. Although there has been a marked decline in confidence, still ‘foreign nationals’ believe that they will be treated fairly by the police – and this is something that is not seen in the wider population. When it comes to ‘new migrants’ who arrived in the UK after 2004, it is worth looking at Baker and colleagues’ study (2013) which explored how those who work in professional capacities with European migrants perceive the relationship between immigration and crime. The CJS representatives, who participated in the study, perceived the crime the EU migrants commit as being mostly alcohol-related minor offences, drink driving or domestic violence.

I am far from arguing that the aforementioned offences are not a nuisance, however, as the authors of the study argued – for the general public the criminality by foreign nationals almost always ‘sticks out’ and is more prone to be ‘blown out of proportions’ than crime committed by any other offender. If that’s the case, the notion of ‘foreign crimewave’ somewhat has a weak basis.


Aitken, D. (2016) Criminal Justice Adjudication in an Age of Migration. Available at:

Baker, A.A.; Madoc-Jones, I.; Parry, O.; Warren, E.; Perry, K.; Roscoe, K.; & Mottershead, R. (2012) More sinned against than sinning? Perceptions about European migrants and crime. Criminology & Criminal Justice, 13(3), 262–278.

Banks, J. (2011) Foreign national prisoners in the UK: Explanations and implications. Howard Journal, 50(2), 184–198.

Bianchi, M.; Buonanno, P. & Pinotti, P. (2008) Do Immigrants Cause Crime? Paris School of Economics Working Paper No. 2008–05. Paris: School of Economics.

Home Office, Ministry of Justice & Foreign & Commonwealth Office (2014) Managing and removing foreign nationals. Available at:

Office for National Statistics (2015) Population by Country of Birth and Nationality Estimates. Available at:–frequently-asked-questions—august-2011.pdf

Prison Reform Trust (2015) Prison: The facts, Bromley Briefings Summer 2015

Solivetti LM (2005) Who is afraid of migration and crime? Howard Journal 44(3), 322–325.

Waterhouse, B. & Kerr, M. (2014) BME and Migrant Confidence in Policing and Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland: An Exploratory Exercise to Support the Community Safety Strategy. Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnership available at:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s