1. Main facts and figures

  • from 2009 to 2017, the average length of custodial sentences given to offenders increased for all ethnic groups
  • in every year during the same period, White offenders were given the shortest custodial sentences on average, and Asian or Black offenders were given the longest
  • in 2017, among all age and ethnic groups, White juvenile offenders (aged under 18 years) were given the shortest custodial sentences on average (at 17 months), as well as those from the Other (including Chinese) group (at 13 months)
  • among female offenders, Asian offenders and those from the Other (including Chinese) group were given the longest average custodial sentences compared with all other ethnic groups
Things you need to know

Where an offender was sentenced for more than one offence, the data relates to the offence for which the offender was given the heaviest penalty – for example, an immediate custodial sentence rather than a fine.

Ethnicity wasn’t known or declared for about 1 in 5 offenders. The analysis here only considers offenders for whom ethnicity was known.

Often, the number of people within the ‘Other (including Chinese)’ ethnic group is low. This means that any results within this category should be interpreted with caution.

What the data measures

The data measures the average custodial sentence length in months for offenders given an immediate custodial sentence by a court.

The data is broken down by ethnicity, age, gender and type of offence (‘offence group’).

Figures are based on the length of immediate custodial sentences given in court, not the length served by the offender.

The data doesn’t include life sentences or other custodial sentences where there is no set end date (known as ‘indeterminate sentences’).

There are three broad types of offence:

  • indictable-only offences, such as murder, rape or robbery, which can only be heard in the Crown Court
  • offences that are triable either way, which means they can be heard in either a magistrates’ court or in the Crown Court, and include offences like theft from shops and handling stolen goods
  • summary offences, such as speeding and TV licence evasion, which are heard in a magistrates’ court

This data only measures indictable-only offences and offences that are triable either way (also called ‘either way’ offences).

Different offences within the same offence group often carry different sentence lengths – for example, murder and grievous bodily harm are both classified as ‘violence against the person’.

Offenders are classified by age group as follows:

  • juveniles are aged under 18 years
  • young adults are aged between 18 and 20 years
  • adults are aged 21 years and over
The ethnic categories used in this data

This data uses the following broad ethnic groups based on the 2001 Census:

  • Asian/Asian British
  • Black/African/Caribbean/Black British
  • Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups
  • White
  • Other (including Chinese)

There is also a ‘not stated’ category, made up of people whose ethnicity wasn’t known or who chose not to declare it. About 1 in 5 offenders were in this category. This analysis excludes those in the ‘not stated’ category.

2. By ethnicity of offender over time

Average custodial sentence length (in months) by ethnicity of offender over time
Year Asian Black Mixed White Other inc Chinese
2009 19 20 16 15 17
2010 20 21 17 15 17
2011 22 23 18 16 17
2012 22 23 20 16 17
2013 23 24 19 17 19
2014 25 25 20 17 19
2015 25 25 20 18 21
2016 25 24 21 18 23
2017 27 26 22 18 21

Download table data (CSV) Source data (CSV)

Summary

This data shows that:

  • on average, White offenders were given the shortest custodial sentences every year from 2009 to 2017, compared with all other ethnic groups
  • in 2017, Asian and Black offenders were given the longest sentences on average, at 27 and 26 months respectively
  • the average custodial sentence length increased for all ethnic groups between 2009 and 2017 – the biggest increase was for Asian offenders (from 19 to 27 months)
  • in 2017, the difference in the average custodial sentence length between Asian and White offenders was 9 months

3. By ethnicity and sex of offender

Average custodial sentence length (in months) by ethnicity and sex of offender over time
Asian Black Mixed White Other inc Chinese
Year Male Female Not known Male Female Not known Male Female Not known Male Female Not known Male Female Not known
2009 20 16 3 21 14 2 17 8 5 15 9 2 17 12 1
2010 20 15 1 22 14 2 18 11 0 15 9 2 17 13 3
2011 22 18 6 23 16 1 18 14 4 16 10 2 18 12 0
2012 23 15 0 24 16 2 20 14 1 16 10 2 18 12 3
2013 23 14 3 25 14 5 20 10 3 18 10 2 19 9 2
2014 25 19 1 25 14 3 21 9 1 18 10 2 19 17 3
2015 25 19 2 26 15 4 21 12 2 19 10 2 22 14 3
2016 25 14 2 25 14 4 22 10 2 19 10 2 24 12 0
2017 27 18 2 26 14 3 23 10 1 19 11 3 21 16 0

Download table data (CSV) Source data (CSV)

Summary

This data shows that:

  • in 2017, female offenders were given shorter custodial sentences on average than male offenders in every ethnic group
  • Asian offenders were given the longest sentences on average for both male offenders (at 27 months) and female offenders (at 18 months)
  • White offenders were given the shortest custodial sentences on average for male offenders (at 19 months), and offenders with Mixed ethnicity were given the shortest custodial sentences on average for female offenders (at 10 months)

4. By ethnicity and age group of offender

Average custodial sentence length (in months) by ethnicity and age group of offender over time
Asian Black Mixed White Other inc Chinese
Year Juveniles Young adults Adults Juveniles Young adults Adults Juveniles Young adults Adults Juveniles Young adults Adults Juveniles Young adults Adults
2009 16 21 19 15 24 20 13 18 16 11 14 15 13 21 17
2010 14 21 20 17 25 21 14 18 18 12 15 15 18 18 16
2011 17 24 22 16 26 23 14 19 18 12 16 16 13 21 17
2012 16 24 22 17 27 23 15 22 20 12 17 16 13 17 17
2013 15 23 23 19 27 24 17 22 19 13 19 17 13 16 19
2014 17 25 25 19 27 25 16 24 19 13 17 17 14 17 20
2015 21 26 25 18 24 26 21 22 20 15 18 18 15 19 22
2016 21 23 25 16 25 24 20 23 20 14 18 18 16 21 24
2017 18 29 27 20 28 26 19 21 22 17 19 18 13 20 21

Download table data (CSV) Source data (CSV)

Summary

This data shows that:

  • in 2017, Asian young adults (aged 18 to 20 years) and Black young adults were given the longest custodial sentences out of all combinations of age and ethnic group – their average custodial sentences were 29 and 28 months long respectively
  • in both the young adult and adult age groups, White offenders were given the shortest custodial sentences on average, and among juveniles, those from the Other (including Chinese) group were given the shortest average custodial sentence
  • among juveniles (aged under 18 years), Black offenders, and those with Mixed ethnicity, were given the longest sentences, at 20 and 19 months on average
  • there was a difference of 11 months between the average sentences given to Asian juveniles (18 months) and Asian young adults (29 months), the largest difference between age groups of the same ethnicity

5. By ethnicity of offender and type of offence

Average custodial sentence length (in months) by ethnicity of offender and type of offence
Offence Group Asian Black Mixed White Other inc Chinese
Criminal damage and arson 43 30 36 30 74
Drug offences 42 35 34 34 32
Fraud Offences 23 14 17 16 15
Miscellaneous crimes against society 16 11 10 11 13
Possession of weapons 25 15 15 12 12
Public order offences 8 7 8 6 5
Robbery 52 50 56 47 60
Sexual offences 58 61 65 60 49
Theft Offences 9 11 9 9 11
Violence against the person 30 39 26 21 25

Download table data (CSV) Source data (CSV)

Summary

This data shows that:

  • for offences of violence against the person, Black offenders had the longest average sentence in 2017 (at 39 months), and White offenders had the shortest (at 21 months)
  • for drugs offences, Asian offenders had the longest average sentence (at 42 months) and offenders from the Other (including Chinese) ethnic group had the shortest (at 32 months)
  • Asian offenders had a longer average sentence for possession of weapons (at 25 months), compared with White, and offenders from the Other (including Chinese) ethnic group (both at 12 months)
  • among all ethnicities and offence groups, the shortest average custodial sentence was for public order offences committed by offenders from the Other (including Chinese) ethnic group (at 5 months) and White offenders (at 6 months)
  • among all ethnicities and offence groups, the longest average custodial sentence was for criminal damage and arson committed by offenders from the Other (including Chinese) ethnic group (at 74 months), followed by sexual offences committed by offenders with Mixed ethnicity at (65 months)

6. Methodology

The analysis uses administrative data from courts.

Suppression rules and disclosure control

Values less than 5 are suppressed, these cells are left blank in the downloadable CSVs.

Rounding

Sentences are rounded to the nearest 1 decimal place (in months)

Related publications

Race and the criminal justice system

Quality and methodology information

Further technical information

Further data and ethnicity breakdowns are available using the annual (year ending December) Criminal Justice Statistics pivot tables.

7. Data sources

Source

Type of data

Administrative data

Type of statistic

National Statistics

Publisher

Ministry of Justice

Publication frequency

Quarterly

Purpose of data source

The data is used by the government to develop, monitor and evaluate criminal justice policy. It reports on activity in the criminal justice system for England and Wales, giving information for the latest year and longer-term trends.

8. Download the data