Black people are stopped and searched for drugs at 6.3 times the rate of white people, according to a new report from Release and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Asian people are also stopped at 2.5 times the rate and those identifying as mixed race at twice the rate, says The numbers in black and white: ethnic disparities in the policing and prosecution of drug offences in England and Wales.
Black people are also more than twice as likely to be charged if any drugs are found, it says. In 2009/10, 78 per cent of black people caught in possession of cocaine by the Metropolitan Police were charged and 22 per cent given cautions, while among white people 56 per cent were given cautions and just 44 per cent were charged. Black people are also five times more likely to be charged for possession of cannabis.
Members of the black community are also more than four times more likely to be subject to court proceedings and found guilty than white people for possession offences, and five times more likely to face immediate jail, states the document.
The Crown Prosecution Service brought more than 43,000 prosecutions for drug possession in 2010 – the highest since the introduction of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act – 60 per cent of which were for cannabis offences, while 1.2m criminal records were issued for drug possession offences between 1996 and 2011. More than half of all stop and searches are for drugs, compared to 10 per cent for offensive weapons and less than 1 per cent for guns.
‘The policing and prosecution of drug offences is not being equally applied to all those who use drugs,’ the report concludes. ‘It is impossible for the state to police the estimated 3m people who use drugs annually in the UK. Instead, certain groups are the focus of enforcement,’ with the ‘deliberately inflicted pains of drug control’ falling most heavily on ‘poor and visible minorities’.
‘This research shows that stop and search is not about finding guns or knives but about the police going out and actively looking for people who are in possession of a small amount of drugs, mainly cannabis,’ said Release executive director and co-author of the report, Niamh Eastwood. ‘Black people are more likely to get a criminal record than white people, are more likely to be taken to court and are more likely to be fined or imprisoned for drug offences because of the way in which they are policed, rather than because they are more likely to use drugs. Despite calls for police reform of stop and search little has changed in the last three decades – this is why the government needs to take action and change the law.’
Release has called for drug possession offences to be decriminalised in order to ‘eliminate a significant source of discrimination with all its damaging consequences.’
Available at www.release.org.uk