Black and Asian defendants are more likely to be jailed immediately for drug offences than white defendants, according to a report published by the Sentencing Council today. The report would appear to back Labour MP David Lammy's findings of bias and discrimination in the criminal justice system in his landmark race review.
Analysis of Crown court sentencing data from April 2012 to March 2015 for drug supply offences shows that the odds for Asian and other ethnicity offenders receiving an immediate custodial sentence were 50% higher than the odds for white offenders; 40% for black offenders.
The council stressed that the figures did not mean that Asian offenders are 50% more likely than white offenders to receive an immediate custodial sentence, and it did not mean that 150 Asian offenders are sentenced to immediate custody for every 100 white offenders.
The report says: 'It can be difficult to picture what odds ratios like those presented above mean in real terms. To illustrate what this finding does mean, it is easier to talk of probabilities instead, which allow us to compare specific groups of offenders. For example, if 100 offenders from each ethnic group studied were sentenced for possession with intent to supply a class B drug, and had the most common factors in the data taken into account by the judge, then around 37 white offenders, around 46 Asian offenders, around 46 other ethnicity offenders and around 44 black offenders would be expected to be sentenced to immediate custody...'
Asian offenders received custodial sentences that were, on average, one month longer than the sentence imposed on white offenders. No differences were found between offenders who were white, black or another ethnicity.
The council stressed that the analysis is not conclusive as it has not been possible to completely discount other potentially influential factors.
The research was published alongside proposals to revise drug sentencing guidelines. Lord Justice Holroyde, chair of the Sentencing Council, said the nature of offending is changing, and more vulnerable people including children are being exploited through grooming or coercion.
Consultation on the proposals closes on 7 April.