Number of young people penalised for carrying knives at eight-year high

Damien Gayle
Police say young people are now more often carrying blades for status and self-protection. Photograph: Katie Collins/PA

More young people are being cautioned or sentenced for carrying knives than at any time for nearly eight years, new figures have revealed.

Under-18s were penalised for knife possession 1,180 times from April to June, Ministry of Justice statistics show – the highest quarterly tally for that age group since the period July to September 2009.

In total, 5,237 knife possession offences were dealt with by the criminal justice system in the three months to the end of June – up 6% on the equivalent period in 2016.

An MoJ report accompanying the statistics said knife possession offences fell between 2008 and 2014, but the trend has reversed in the last three years.

The figures come amid fresh concern about knife crime, particularly in London where 13 teenagers have been fatally stabbed so far this year. Teenagers have also been charged in many cases where adults have been the victims of deadly stabbings.

Police have shifted their outlook on youth knife crime away from a narrative of gang violence, and now say young people are more often carrying blades for status and self-protection.

Whitney Iles, of Project 507, a social enterprise that tackles the causes of violence, said the increase in knife crime had created a vicious spiral that spurred more young people to carry weapons. Fewer educational opportunities and a lack of decent jobs has also left young people feeling dismal about their future, making them more likely to take risks and adopt violent lifestyles, she said.

“These kinds of things spread, so you have to look at it from the more people that are carrying knives it means that more and more people are going to want to protect themselves,” Iles said. “If you carry a knife it means that you are willing to put your life in danger and it means that you feel like your life is in danger – you go straight into survival mode.

“If we’ve got young people that are not seeing themselves as able to live a longer life or have the opportunities that they need or deserve, then what we have is a lot of young people who are thinking more in the moment.”

Two in five adult offenders and 13% of juveniles were given an immediate custodial sentence. Three in 10 juvenile offenders and 7% of adults received cautions.

Under a “two strikes” system introduced in 2015, minimum sentences were introduced for those aged 16 and over who are convicted of a second or subsequent offence of possession of a knife or offensive weapon.

The punishments are at least six months imprisonment for adults, while young offenders face a minimum four-month detention and training order.

Dominic Raab, the justice minister, said: “We’re catching and prosecuting more of those who carry a knife or blade. Those convicted are more likely to go to prison, and for longer terms. Knives are a scourge of communities. Our message to those carrying a knife is that you should expect to end up in jail.”

So far, 26 young people have been killed by knives in the UK in 2017, according to the Guardian’s count.

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