The Power of Racialized Discretion in Policing Migration


Discretionary practices have often been put forward to explain the racially disproportionate patterns we see in policing. The focus on discretion rather than racism neatly shifts attention away from race and instead towards discretionary practices, which are notoriously amorphous and inscrutable. The attention towards discretion (rather than race) further allows race to operate without being explicitly named and, therefore, to operate as an absent present. In this article, I discuss how race and discretion work together when ordinary police officers are tasked with migration control duties to identify foreign national offenders. Drawing on empirical research conducted in England, I propose the concept of racialised discretion and argue that it holds merit because it recognises that certain discretionary practices and decisions are animated because of race, through race and with the effect (intentional or not) of racially disproportionate outcomes. The article argues for the need for racialised discretion to be seen as distinct from other forms of discretion both in policing and the criminal justice process more widely.

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Published: 2021-09-01
Pages:41 to 55
Section:Special Issue: Transforming Borders and the Discretionary Politics of Migration
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How to Cite
Parmar, A. . (2021) “The Power of Racialized Discretion in Policing Migration”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 10(3), pp. 41-55. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.2040.

Author Biography

University of Oxford
 United Kingdom

Alpa Parmar is a Research Associate at the Centre for Criminology, Faculty of Law, University of Oxford and an Associate Director of Border Criminologies. Her research explores the relationship between criminal law, citizenship and race and disproportionality in the criminal justice process. Most recently she has conducted research on the policing of foreign nationals in Britain and the life histories of racial minority young people who are involved in the criminal justice system.

The author acknowledges with great appreciation the participants in the study and the support of the John Fell Oxford University Press (OUP) research fund [grant number 151/080] from which this publication arises.