Drug Policing Drives Racial Disparity

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The FINANCIAL — While the use of stop and search has fallen significantly, there has been a shocking increase in racial disparities in the policing and prosecution of drug offences according to a new report by Stopwatch, Release and LSE.

The report, The colour of justice: ‘Race’, drugs and law enforcement in England and Wales highlights that black people are now nine times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs despite using drugs at a lower rate than white people. This is a marked increase on the 2010/11 figure when black people were six times more likely to be search for drugs.

Black people are now stopped and searched, for any reason, at more than eight times the rate of whites – a figure that has more than doubled since 1998/9 when the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry declared stop and search to be ‘institutionally racist’. In 2016/17, every police force in England and Wales stopped and searched black people at a higher rate than white people.

Across England and Wales, drugs searches account for 60 per cent of all stop and searches, and the vast majority are for simple possession. In some parts of the country the focus on drugs is much stronger. For example, 82 per cent of searches by Merseyside Police force in 2016/17 were for drugs.

The report also highlights that black people are treated more harshly when they are found in possession of drugs. The detection rate from stop and search is similar for all ethnic groups, but black people are arrested at a higher rate than whites and given out of court disposals at a lower rate. Arrests for drugs as a result of stop and search fell by 52 per cent for white people between 2010/11 and 2016/17, but did not fall at all for black people.

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Cannabis possession is driving much of the racial disparity in the prosecution and sentencing of drug offences. Black and Asian people were convicted of cannabis possession at 11.8 and 2.4 times the rate of white people respectively in 2017 despite their lower rates of self-reported cannabis use, providing prima facie evidence of discrimination. More black people were prosecuted for cannabis possession than supply of Class A or B substances combined – this was the reverse for white people. Black people made up a quarter of those convicted of cannabis possession even though they comprise less than four per cent of the population.


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