Ethnic differences in sentencing – are you surprised ?

Institutional racism in sentencing of offenders ?

A recent study by the Guardian newspaper (not the first such analysis over the years) shows that there are definite sentencing disparities based on ethnicity and when it comes to certain offences.

The Guardian conducted it’s own analysis based on an extensive trawl through data released by the Ministry of justice. The most interesting aspects of this analysis are as follows :-

  • black offenders compared to white offenders for driving offences are over 40% more likely than to go to prison
  • in relation to possessing a weapon the figure is just under 40% more for black people
  • for drug related offences the figure is just under 30%.

These are clearly large discrepancies and certainly do nothing to dispel the ongoing belief, with apparent justification, that the law is not applied fairly, which many would say was a significant contributing factor to the recent London riots.

The analysis does also show that this is not only a black and white issue, since there are also quite large differences between sentencing for white and Asian offenders, as follows :-

  • Asian offenders are over 40% more likely to go to prison for drugs offences
  • Nearly 20% more Asians go to prison for the offence of shoplifting.

The Judicial Office when asked about the above figures simply said that there are a whole range of factors which could account for the differences. One such factor, pleading guilty early is potentially significant, but otherwise, is this explanation satisfactory especially given that a similar study in 1992 found similar overall discrepancies ?