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Tagged In:  Probation, Youth Offending
Knife crime has risen for the first time in four years, following statistics released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), with 26,370 knife crime offences recorded during 2014/15. But will the newly introduced ‘two strikes’ knife possession law help to reverse this turn in recorded knife crime?

New knife possession law

Ministers estimate that a further 1,000 people will be incarcerated during 2015/16. This is as a result of the new law that means any adult caught with a blade for the second time will be sentenced to at least six months and a maximum of four years. The law also applies to 16 and 17 year olds, who now face a minimum four month Detention and Training Order.

The measures were proposed last year, but were blocked by the Liberal Democrats, with Nick Clegg claiming it would not address the root causes of knife crime. 

Despite the opposition, the government pushed ahead with the new measures that came into force last month (17th July). Justice Minister Mike Penn, in a MoJ statement, said:

"With this new measure we are sending out the strongest message to offenders: repeatedly take a knife on to our streets and expect to go to prison."

Those who favour judges having more discretion over the sentences they pass for the possession of a knife argue that young people could be disproportionately affected as a result of the law’s introduction. It was only in 2009 that the Home Affairs Committee on Knife Crime made it clear that it was opposed to the introduction of mandatory sentencing for possession of a knife. The 2009 report highlighted the committee’s concerns that a young person could be coerced into carrying a knife by an adult. Essentially, a younger gang member could be ‘forced’ by a gang leader to carry a knife, having already been caught, and find themselves incarcerated as a result. 

To go some way to protect more vulnerable young people though, the Youth Justice Board (YJB) successfully argued for explicit reference in the legislation to the court’s duty to take into account the welfare of the child when sentencing 16 and 17-year-olds. 

Tackling knife crime in the West Midlands

West Midlands Police appear to have taken a ‘grass-roots’ approach to tackling knife crime, working directly with young people at risk of carrying knives, with reported incidents at an all time low. MoJ statistics highlight the number of knife crimes resulting in cautions or sentences in the 12 months up to March this year were recorded at 870, a 7% fall from the previous year. 

It’s hard to believe that just five years ago (2008/9), the number of crimes involving a knife in the West Midlands stood at 1,796. 

This has been achieved largely through a number of initiatives, as Detective Chief Inspector Kath Davis of West Midland’s Police said:

“West Midlands Police has invested heavily in campaigns and operations to tackle knife crime across the region over the past ten years.”

This, Davis claims, has “led to a significant decrease over time in the number of offences recorded.”
There’s been a lot of engagement with young people and knife banks have been installed throughout the region as part of the British Ironwork Centre’s ‘Save A Life, Surrender A Knife’ campaign. 

Awareness needed to deter people from carrying knives

The West Midlands certainly seem to be doing something right given the continued downward trend. Perhaps part of the solution lies with the ability of police, youth offending workers, and probation officers, to reach out to those at risk of carrying a knife, explaining the repercussions of being caught. 

The Youth Justice Board has issued advice to youth offending teams. It has suggested that staff review their knife crime prevention programmes (KCPP) and include fresh information on the new two-strikes sentence. It also recommends revisiting interventions aimed at preventing knife possession and knife crime, with a view to keeping 16 and 17-year-olds out of custody. 

In a statement, Scotland Yard said it is taking further actions to tackle knife crime in line with the new law. It said:

“Officers will be visiting the homes of individuals who have previously been arrested for possession of a knife. They will be reminded that we know who they are and given a letter warning them that they could face a prison sentence if they carry a knife."

It’s expected that Police will also conduct weapons sweeps where intelligence points to offenders hiding knives. There will also be a crack down on stores selling blades to anyone under the age of 18. 
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