Harsher penalties for young people guilty of knife crime will not solve the issue, a social justice charity has said. Instead, the emphasis should be on early intervention and support for young people, according to a report from Nacro.
The report, published today, says the police should not increase use of stop and search and that the government stop issuing short custodial sentences to perpetrators of knife crime.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that the number of people cautioned or convicted for carrying knives in England and Wales reached a record high of 14,135 during 2018-19. And today, the latest annual youth justice statistics highlight that 4,500 knife and offensive weapon offences were committed by children aged 10-17 between April 2018 and March 2019, in comparison to 2,671 offences committed during the same period in 2014.
Background: 'Bad stuff happens when I don’t have a knife'
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Nacro chief executive Campbell Robb said: “Our students have told us that fear of being attacked leads to the belief that carrying a knife is their only option to protect themselves. The threat of prison does nothing to stop this.
“With nearly seven out of 10 young people released from prison between April 2017 and March 2018 re-offending, we desperately need a different response. Prison is not the answer. We need urgent investment to ensure that young people get the support they need to be diverted away from crime before it is too late.”
The charity has published 14 recommendations for the government, local authorities and the police.
Local authorities and commissions
- Fund education interventions outside mainstream education in order to ensure that the most vulnerable are being reached. Programmes should be evidence-based and have personal safety at their core: recognition of fear as a chief motivator for carrying knives, and the provision of reassurance.
- Provide additional support for looked-after children and children excluded from school and young people who are either already involved or at risk of becoming involved in county lines activity.
- Prioritise investment in the provision of suitable venues and extracurricular activities of interest to young people.
- Create a "second chance" fund, a ring-fenced annual fund equal to the amount of the pupil premium for each child between the ages of 11 and 18 years who has been permanently excluded from school, to fund the required education programmes and wraparound support that these children need.
- Work together with voluntary and community organisations, local authorities and education providers to improve relationships between police and young people and overcome negative perceptions.
- Not increase their use of stop and search as this is likely to be ineffective and lead to further erosion in the relationship between police and the communities that they serve.
- More effectively tackle the illegal sale of offensive weapons to children, including awareness-raising of the harm that is potentially caused.
While Nacro welcomes the government’s commitment to a Public Health Approach to preventing serious environment, it should focus towards prevention and away from punishment.
- Establish a Cross Government Committee which drives the urgently needed shift towards prevention.
- Avoid short custodial sentences and increasing the severity of penalties as these are proven to be ineffective in reducing reoffending.
- Stop the roll out of the new Knife Crime Prevention Orders – Nacro says that they will be ineffective at tackling harmful behaviour and will not address the root causes of knife carrying, as these orders are likely to be net-widening, labelling and disproportionately impact on BAME communities.
- Commit to early interventions which provide the opportunity to address the issues that have led to knife carrying, at the earliest possible moment, including investment in targeted education and skills provision, high-quality alternative provision units, and Youth Offending Teams.
- Ensure that any knife-crime campaigns or education is evidence-based and involves young people in their development in order to be credible and effective.
- Focus interventions on tackling the underlying causes of violence, fear and insecurity.
- Increase focus on tackling reoffending as the increasing rate suggests current approaches are not working.