The Numbers in Black And White: Ethnic Disparities In The Policing And Prosecution Of Drug Offences In England And Wales

This report demonstrates that the policing and prosecutions of drug possession offences in England and Wales is unduly focussed on black and minority communities. This report looks at racial disparity rates at stop and search, arrest, prosecution and sentencing and clearly demonstrates that the drug laws in the UK are a major driver of the disproportionality that exists in our criminal justice system in relation to the black community.

Read the press release here.

The report is the second in a series of reports Release has published to support our campaign ‘Drugs - It’s Time for Better Laws’. This campaign was launched in June 2011 and saw the organisation write to David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, calling for a review of our current drug policies and promoting the introduction of the decriminalisation of drug possession (whereby non-criminal sanctions, and in some cases no sanctions, were applied to the possession of some or all drugs). The letter was supported by high profile individuals including Sting, Richard Branson, Caroline Lucas MP and Baroness Meacher and received significant media coverage.

The Main Findings

Stop and search has increased steadily since 2001/2 from less than 750,000 to a peak of almost 1.3 million in 2010/11, more than 1.2 million of which were carried out under PACE and associated legislation. Despite a slight decline, there were still more than one million stop searches carried out in 2011/12. Half or more of these searches are for drugs. This means that every 58 seconds someone in England and Wales is stopped and searched by the police for drugs.

Somebody is stopped and searched for drugs every 58 seconds

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In 2009/10 the overall search rate for drugs across the population as a whole was 10 searches per 1000 people. For those from the white population it was 7 per 1000, increasing to 14 per 1000 for those identifying as mixed race, 18 per 1000 for those identifying as Asian and to 45 per 1000 for those identifying as black. Tweet Share this on Twitter

Black people were, in other words, 6.3 times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs than white people, while Asian people were 2.5 times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs and those identifying as mixed race were stopped and searched for drugs at twice the rate of white people.

Large numbers of young people are being subject to police stop and search for drugs. In 2009/10 half the 280,000 drug stop searches carried out by the Metropolitan police were on young people aged 21 years or below. Almost 16,900 were of children aged 15 or below. Tweet Share this on Twitter

The Numbers in Black And White Stop and Search Infographic

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Across London black people are charged for possession of cannabis at 5 times the rate of white people. Tweet Share this on Twitter For cannabis warnings the rate is 3 times. This jump in disproportionality at the charge stage demonstrates that black people are more likely to receive a harsher police response for possession of cannabis.

Black people in London who are caught in possession of cocaine are charged, rather than cautioned, at a much higher rate than their white counterparts. In 2009/10 the Metropolitan Police charged 78 per cent of black people caught in possession of cocaine compared with 44 per cent of whites.

Conviction caution racial disparity infographic

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Every year approximately 80,000 people in England and Wales are convicted or cautioned for possession of drugs. In the 15 year period, 1996 to 2011, 1.2 million criminal records have been generated as a result of drug possession laws. Tweet Share this on Twitter

In 2010 the Crown Prosecution Service brought more prosecutions for possession of drugs than have been bought in any year since the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 43,406 people were found guilty of drug possession. This was primarily driven by prosecution for cannabis possession.

Rates of prosecution for possession

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This report demonstrates significant harms associated with the policing and prosecution of drug offences, particularly possession offences. The sheer volume of drug searches means that thousands of people, mainly young people and those from black and minority ethnic communities are being caught up needlessly in the criminal justice system every year to the detriment of their future. While tens of thousands of people are being criminalised every year for low level possession offences, it is those from the black community who are a greater risk of criminalisation and harsher sanctions.

With over half a million stop searches carried out for drugs in England and Wales every year, and only a 7 per cent arrest rate, Tweet Share this on Twitter , drug laws effectively allow the police to interfere with the free movement of citizens across the country when they have done nothing wrong. At a time of austerity, it is more important than ever that our limited resources are used wisely. With high levels of interference and low levels of detection, drug law enforcement simply does not pay and is an area of the criminal justice system that should be reformed. This is why we are proposing the decriminalisation of drug possession offences as an effective policy solution to the problems identified in this report.

It's up to politicians to make this change, what would have happened to them if they had been criminalised for their drug use. If you want to make change sign up as a Release supporter.

Infographic of the Release playing cards featuring drug using politicians

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