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Research Articel: Ethnicity and Crime in the Netherlands

James D. Unnever

First Published April 12, 2018     


The research on the relationship between immigration and crime is central to the debate on immigration policies throughout Europe. This article reviews the research on whether immigrants in the Netherlands are more likely to engage in crime with a specific focus on whether Moroccans have a greater propensity to offend than the native Dutch. It is concluded that deficiencies in the research including the potential effects of bias against immigrant groups render the assessment of whether immigrants commit more crime than the native Dutch problematic.

Keywords ethnicity and crime, discrimination, the Netherlands

Scholars recognize that establishing rates of crime across immigrant groups in Europe including the Netherlands is problematic because government agencies including the criminal justice system do not collect data on ethnicity (Junger-Tas, 1997; Tonry & Bijleveld, 2007). In the absence of officially recording ethnicity, two methods have been used to estimate the rates of crime across different ethnic groups (Wittebrood, 2003). These two methods are (1) asking questions pertaining to the person’s ethnicity on surveys along with self-reports of crime and (2) using official databases that merge information about whether the parents or the suspects were born outside of the Netherlands. Weerman (2007) reported that researchers most often analyze the System of Social Statistical Data Sets (SSD) at Statistics Netherlands, which contains integral data about the population of the Netherlands in a system of linkable registers and various surveys that have been merged and made consistent. The SSD includes the Herkenningsdienstsysteem (HKS) Police Identification Service System, which has been in use since 1986 to register anyone suspected of a criminal offense in the Netherlands (Bovenkerk & Fokkema, 2016). However, note that the official data consider the third generation of immigrants as native Dutch because both they and their parents were born in the Netherlands. Consequently, the research reviewed below has only analyzed crime among the first or the second generation of immigrants. In short, there is the need for research regarding whether the third generation of immigrants has the same likelihood of committing crimes as the first and second generation.

Below, I review the prior research that analyzes whether different ethnic groups commit more crime than the native Dutch. The results of these studies are mixed. Surveys generally reveal that Turks and Moroccans self-report less crime than the native Dutch, whereas the research that analyzes official police data consistently finds that ethnic groups, including Turk and Moroccans, commit more crime than the native Dutch. I first review the results generated from self-reports of crime included in anonymous and confidential surveys and then review the research that has analyzed official police data.

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