Racial disparity in stop and search increasing, says report

Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs in England and Wales than white people, according to a new report from Release, Stopwatch and the London School of Economics and Political Science. While the use of stop and search overall has fallen significantly there has been a ‘shocking increase in racial disparities in the policing and prosecution of drug offences’, says The colour of injustice: ‘race’, drugs and law enforcement in England and Wales.

Drugs searches account for 60 per cent of stop and searches, says the document, although in some areas the figure is far higher – more than 80 per cent of searches by Merseyside Police in 2016-17 were for drugs. In 2010-11 black people were six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people (DDN, September 2013, page 4), and while this rate has now increased still further, black people use fewer drugs than white people, the report states. In 2016-17 every police force in England and Wales stopped and searched black people at a higher rate than white people.

Black people are also treated more harshly when found in possession of drugs, the report continues. While the detection rate for stop and search is similar for all ethnic groups, black people are arrested at a higher rate and given out of court disposals at a lower rate. Stop and search-related drug arrests fell by 52 per cent for white people between 2010-11 and 2016-17, however for black people they remained unchanged.

Much of the disparity in prosecution and sentencing is driven by cannabis possession, with convictions for black and Asian people at 11.8 and 2.4 times the rate for white people respectively, despite ‘lower rates of self-reported cannabis use’. Police forces are ‘making operational decisions to target low-level drug possession offences over other, more serious, offences’, it adds.

‘Not only are black people being discriminated against in the use of stop and search but they are being prosecuted at a much higher rate than white people for possession offences, especially in relation to cannabis,’ said co-author of the report, Zoe Carre. ‘This is an appalling indictment of the criminal justice system, which is acting as a conveyer belt for the criminalisation of young black people for low level offending, whilst treating white people more leniently for the same offences.’

‘If Theresa May is serious about tackling racial disparity in the criminal justice system then she has to address drug law enforcement, which she has abjectly failed to do,’ added Release executive director Niamh Eastwood. ‘As our report shows police forces in some parts of the country are implementing innovative diversion programmes for those caught in possession of drugs – this should be rolled out nationally to prevent the over-criminalisation of young black men.’

Read the report here

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