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Prisoners: Drugs

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN 150059, tabled on 30 March 2022

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, in the context of reported figures on black people being ten times more likely than white people to be sent to prison for first-time drug offences, what steps he is taking to tackle this imbalance.

Answered on

19 April 2022

We recognise that race disparities persist in the Criminal Justice System, and we are committed to identifying and addressing disparities under the axiom of ‘explain or reform’ laid out in the Lammy Review. And though we acknowledge that Black people are overrepresented amongst those sentenced to prison for a first-time drug offence, this falls short of the reported 10-fold figure.

Recent data indicates that the main drivers of this overrepresentation lie upstream of the point of prosecution. The government’s data on Outcomes by Offence shows that relative to Black individuals being prosecuted for drug possession, a similar proportion go on to be sentenced for the same offence (15% of individuals identified as Black during prosecution and at the point of sentencing). At the point of sentence, in 2020, 3% of Black individuals were sentenced to immediate custody as a proportion of all Black individuals sentenced for drug possession, which was the same rate as for White individuals, also 3%. These figures suggest that upon reaching prosecution, Black individuals receive outcomes at similar rates to White counterparts. This mirrors the findings of the report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, and our ambitious response - the Inclusive Britain strategy, which highlighted the importance of a whole system approach.

Whilst sentencing is a matter for our independent courts, we are committed to tackling the deep-rooted reasons why people from ethnic minorities are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, including the disproportionate criminalisation of ethnic minorities for drug offences. As set out in Inclusive Britain we have committed to exploring a wide range of schemes to divert people away from the CJS for possession, where appropriate, and will share what works best with police services around the country.

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