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The numbers in black and white: Ethnic disparities in the policing and prosecution of drug offences in England and Wales

This 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 first report ‘A Quiet Revolution: Drug Decriminalisation Policies in Practice Across the Globe’ looked at 21 jurisdictions that had adopted some form of decriminalisation of drug possession. Overwhelmingly, the research showed that such an approach does not lead to an increase in drug use. Importantly, by not criminalising those who use drugs, the evidence demonstrated that there were improved outcomes in terms of employment and relationships, reduced stigma and that people were less likely to enter or re-enter the criminal justice system. Experience from other jurisdictions also showed there can be significant financial savings for the criminal justice system when decriminalisation is implemented

This second 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.

As the first report demonstrated, criminalisation does not act as a deterrent when someone decides to use drugs but it does cause significant harms in terms of a criminal record. This report goes further and establishes that those harms are being applied in an unfair manner. An urgent review of UK drug policy is necessary to reduce this disparity, and bring equitable justice to all communities.