Black and minority ethnic (BAME) offenders face bias in drug offences cases. According to a research commissioned by Sentencing Council, BAME offenders are more likely to be sent to prison for drug offences than others. The disparity in sentencing is exposed by the official body that advises judges as it prepares to update guidelines for dealing with drug offenders in England and Wales.
The Sentencing Council’s research concentrated on associations between an offender’s sex and ethnicity, and the type and length of sentence they received in three supply-related drug crimes. It drew on statistics from crown court records between 2012 and 2015. The male offender is 2.4 times more likely to put under immediate custodial sentence than a female offender. Male offenders received sentences on average 14% longer than for women.
The odds of a black offender receiving an immediate custodial sentence were found to be 1.4 times the odds for a comparable white offender. For Asian offenders and those in the designated “other” ethnic group, the odds of receiving an immediate custodial sentence for the three drug offences were 1.5 times greater than for white offenders.
Asian offenders received custodial sentences on average 4% longer than the sentences imposed for white offenders, the research found. No differences were discovered when comparing custodial sentence lengths between other ethnic groups. The Sentencing Council says it is concerned about the disparities.
Launching a consultation on revising existing drug offence guidelines, it says it is “asking … whether any of the factors in the draft drug offences guidelines, or the language used, could impact disproportionately on different social groups”. The analysis did not identify reasons for the disparities in sentencing outcomes.
The council is proposing to update five drug offences guidelines that came into force in 2012 and cover offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) 1971. Its aim is to “bring them up to date with modern drug offending” and to introduce four guidelines for new offences created by the Psychoactive Substances Act (PSA) 2016.
The Sentencing Council chair, Lord Justice Holroyde, said: “Drug offending affects a large cross-section of society; from people voluntarily involved in the trade including dealers and users, to families and the community who often have to deal with the aftermath, and it has to be taken seriously. The nature of offending is also changing and we are seeing more vulnerable people including children being exploited either through grooming or coercion. The proposed guidelines will provide guidance for courts and clear information for victims, witnesses and the public on how drug offenders are sentenced.”
Among new “culpability factors” likely to lead to tougher punishments that judges should include are exploiting children or vulnerable people to assist in drug-related activity and exercising control over another person’s home for drug dealing – the practice known as “cuckooing”.