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Racial bias in drugs stops and charges

Black people are twice as likely to be charged for possession of drugs, a new study from the drug charity Release and the London School of Economics (LSE) highlights.

Police are significantly more likely to stop and search black people for drugs, who are also more likely to face charges and even prison. Analysis of Home Office data and Freedom of Information requests from police forces in England and Wales found evidence of clear racial bias throughout the judicial system. 

In London in 2009/10, 78% of black people caught in possession of cocaine were charged, compared to only 44% of white people caught in possession. For people in possession of cannabis, just 12.4% of white people were charged with 75% given a warning. 21.5% of black people were charged, and 65% given a warning. 

Black people were found to be jailed for drugs at six times the rate of white people. 

The research showed significant variation across the country, with black people over six times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs nationally, but far more in certain areas. In Dorset the police force is 17 times more likely to stop a black person. 

Niamh Eastwood, executive director of Release said: “Despite three decades of calls for police reform, nothing has been achieved, more people are being stopped and searched than ever before, and the rates of disproportionality are at the very least the same, if not worse, than they were 30 years ago. 

“The Government needs to change policy, and take drugs out of police hands and treat drug use as a health and education issue.” 

Co-author, Michael Shiner, a social policy expert at the LSE, said: “There is very little, if any, correlation between crime rates and stop-and-search rates. To see it as being about crime is to miss the point.” 

A Home Office spokesman said: “Stop and search is a crucial tool in the fight against crime but it must be applied fairly and in a way that builds community confidence in the police rather than undermining it. 

“We want to see stop and search used only when it's needed, with better community engagement and better search-to-arrest ratios.” 

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