The Black Justice Project : a study of volunteering racialised identity and criminal justice
This thesis is based on a qualitative study of a black voluntary organisation, the Sheffield Black Justice Project. The purpose of the organisation is to offer practical advice to local black people about any aspect of the criminal justice process and the main part of its work involves operating a Help On Arrest Scheme. The thesis sets out to explore significant gaps in sociological knowledge about the participation of black people in voluntary organisations, the racialisation of identity and criminal justice issues. The research was concerned with an investigation of how volunteers from a variety of racialised groups understood the meaning and role of 'race' as they participated in the Black Justice Project. It assessed how far a successful collective response was possible in this specific social context and evaluated the extent to which the project was able to balance the needs and interests of local black people with those of supporting statutory organisations. Three central research questions have been addressed. Firstly, the research has examined the nature of and reasons for the volunteers' involvement in the Black Justice Project. Secondly, it has considered how volunteers perceived their identity to be racialised in relation to other black and white people both within the project and more widely. Thirdly, it has compared and contrasted the understanding of the volunteers with that of custody officers working in South Yorkshire Police, to provide detailed information about the ways in which each group interprets both the relationship between black people and the police and black people's experiences of criminal justice. The fieldwork consisted of two methodological elements. Firstly, a series of semistructured interviews was conducted with the three main groups involved in the research. A sample of thirty volunteers of varied racialised origin was interviewed. Those involved with the management of the project were also interviewed as well as various police officers, including one-third of custody officers in Sheffield. Secondly, informal participant observation of the project was undertaken over a period of two years. Overall, the thesis demonstrates that the Black Justice Project's apparent success resulted from a careful management of its image rather than a comprehensive implementation of the black perspective defined by the volunteers. However, it was found that the black perspective itself was based on the highly questionable notion of an essentialised black identity. The thesis demonstrates how racialised identity is always a process of accommodation, negotiation and transformation involving both group identification and categorisation by others. The research also revealed that the job-related objectives of the volunteers were thwarted by the custody officers who, it was found, effectively adhered to their job related priorities and so racialised the project's Help On Arrest Scheme. It was found that these two groups had a very different interpretation of the nature of police-black relations to the extent that the volunteers regarded raciaIised policing as the norm whereas the officers regarded it as an extremely infrequent deviation from it.