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Tagged In:  Youth Offending

Six months on from when new powers were introduced to increase the prison sentences given to those caught carrying a knife were introduced, there’s been a reported 7% rise in the number of offenders punished for knife related offences. 

It perhaps wasn’t too much of a surprise when the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the police and courts dealt with 4,547 knife possession offences between July and September 2015; the first quarter after the introduction of the new powers. 

This represents a 6% increase on the previous quarter and an overall rise of 7% when compared with the same quarter the previous year. 

So why the jump in numbers?

Well, for a start, and according to the ONS knife crime bulletin, the increase was largely driven by a more significant rise in the proportion of disposals for young offenders (10%), compared to adult offenders (4%) following the introduction of stricter sentencing powers in July last year. 

There’s a much greater emphasis on being tougher with those caught with a blade for a second time, with the new laws giving courts the opportunity to sentence those offenders for at least six months and a maximum of four years.  

What changes are we seeing with the prison population?

There’s been a significant increase in the proportion of those found guilty of knife possession going to prison. Juvenile offenders and young adult offenders are much less likely to simply be cautioned than they were several years ago, with one in ten now being imprisoned. 

As of 25 September 2015, 672 offenders were serving a prison sentence for knife possession offences, quashing the overall downward trend seen in the prison population witnessed in the past six years. 

It also appears as if the courts are being less lenient, with the average prison sentence given for knife possession now 7.3 months, an increase of 1.7 months on 2008. 

Interestingly, almost three-fifths of those imprisoned for carrying a knife or other offensive weapon had already been convicted for carrying a blade. 

The correlation between previous convictions and the type of punishment received

Those offenders with no previous knife possession offences were more likely to receive a community sentence (30%) in the 12 months leading up to September 2015. Going back seven years, in the 12 months ending September 2008, those with no previous knife offences were 12% less likely to receive a caution then they were in 2015 whilst 38% of those who had a previous conviction were served an immediate custodial sentence, compared to 46% recorded in 2015. 

So why is knife crime on the rise?

There’s an argument that with the wider use of harsher sentencing powers we should be seeing a fall in knife related offences and not a rise, but if only it was that simple or quick to reverse such a trend. Preventative work is already under way with probation officers, youth offending officers, and the police steering people away from carrying knifes and other offensive weapons. 

The youth offending teams across the UK have already reviewed their knife crime prevention strategies to make sure they communicate to young offenders about the new sentencing powers. Meanwhile, the Youth Justice Board has revisited interventions designed to dissuade 16 and 17 year olds from carrying a blade. 

Of course, it will be a while before we see any significant impact of such preventative measures, and as the Ministry of Justice has been quick to point out; it is too early “to analyse the full effect of the new laws in the 76 days covered by the ONS figures”, although there does appear to be an emerging trend towards issuing harsher sentences to those already convicted of a similar offence. 

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