Report: Working with people who commit hate crime – Iriss Insight

Hate crime can have a devastating impact on individuals, families, communities and the very fabric of society. However, there is a remarkable dearth of research on the most effective ways to work with people who have committed this type of offence, particularly for Criminal Justice Social Work (CJSW) services and practitioners responsible for their supervision and rehabilitation.

The latest Iriss Insight – Working with people who commit hate crime – aims to consolidate some of the existing research on effective practice with people who commit hate offences, firstly defining and describing hate crime and its root causes, and then considering what may constitute effective practice for practitioners in Scotland working in this field.

Definitions and scope

What is ‘hate crime’?

Hate crime is defined in Scotland as ‘a crime motivated by malice or ill will towards a social group’, with five ‘protected characteristics’ in current Scottish legislation – race, religion, disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity. Unsurprisingly, there are definitional issues with this term, including the concept of ‘hate’ itself, and the socially constructed nature of hate crime (Walters, 2016; Awan and Zempi, 2018). Notwithstanding this, ‘hate crime’ will be used throughout this Insight as the most broadly-used term.

Hate crime ranges from verbal abuse, criminal damage, violence, sexual assault and murder. It is not always committed by strangers; many victims of hate crime know the perpetrator(s) (Mason, 2005). It can also occur online (arguably in greater numbers than offline), creating issues around policing and responsibility (Rohlfing, 2015).


Annual data published by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service demonstrates that hate crime is an ongoing issue in Scotland, with 4914 reported offences in 2018–19 (COPFS, 2019), and 1323 convictions for hate crime in 2017–18 (Scottish Government, 2019a). Information from the Scottish Prison Service indicates that there are currently 883 people in custody convicted of hate crime across the prison estate (Fletcher, 2019). However, there is a broad consensus that hate crime is significantly under-reported (Chakraborti, 2017).


Research indicates that hate crime is more harmful to victims and communities than other types of offending (Iganski and Lagou, 2015). The emotional and psychological trauma caused by hate crime can be intensified, and vicarious trauma can be experienced by those who share identity characteristics with the person involved, such as family or community members. Victims of hate crimes are more likely than victims of parallel crimes to report higher levels of anger, anxiety, sleep difficulties and suicidal ideation (ibid).

Iganski and colleagues (2015) emphasise that any rehabilitative interventions with those who commit hate crime should seek to develop their understanding of the harms it causes, indicating that many people are not fully aware of the impact of their actions at the time of committing the offence; it follows that practitioners should also have a robust understanding of this.

Rania Hamad, the author of the Insight, spoke about this topic in 2017. You can listen on

Picture (c) Iriss.