Attempts to punish and prosecute our way out of knife violence are doomed to failure, according to a new report from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. The report – Young people, violence and knives – finds that police-led interventions and tougher sentencing have, at best, been ineffective and at worst, been counterproductive. By contrast, public health approaches that prevent violence and support victims have had much more promising results but currently lack consistent funding or genuine policy support, the report argues.
With knife violence appearing to be on the rise, there have been renewed calls for tougher policing and tougher sentences. In this context, Young people, violence and knives finds little evidence that criminal justice measures can have a meaningful impact on levels of knife crime. Increasing numbers of people have been sent to prison over recent years, and for longer periods, with no demonstrable effect on knife violence. There is also no evidence to suggest that increasing stop and search will reduce knife possession or violent offences. ’Interventions which do not seek to address wider social issues such as inequality, deprivation, poor mental health and drug addiction’, the report states, ‘are unlikely to provide long-lasting solutions to knife violence.’
By contrast, the report finds that so-called ‘public health’ approaches, if properly supported have the potential to deliver long-term and sustainable reductions in knife violence. A public health approach treats violence like a contagion, which requires mapping, analysis, and the planning of interventions. Research suggests it can be stemmed by community action and providing access to services, and by long term prevention of the social conditions which allow violence to grow.
A recent example of such an approach has included Glasgow’s ‘Community Initiative to Reduce Violence’ (CIRV), part of Scotland’s wider public health approach, the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU). Glasgow’s CIRV, credited with a significant fall in violence across the city, was closed down in 2011 after its funding was cut.
In October, Home Secretary Sajid Javid unveiled plans to implement a public health strategy to tackle knife violence by replicating Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU). Mayor for London, Sadiq Khan, has also announced his intention to adopt a public health response to youth violence in the capital, building on the work of Scotland’s VRU. Although England and Wales can learn from Scotland’s positive outcomes, Young people, violence and knives highlights its limitations, including an overreliance on police leadership, which sits uneasily with the development of community engagement and participation, especially in cities like London where community relations have been fragile.
Dr Roger Grimshaw, Research Director at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and one of the report authors, said:
A genuine and successful public health approach requires multi-faceted leadership, long-term funding commitments and the political will to sustain violence reduction. It should be informed by public health approaches seeking to educate, prevent and treat, rather than enforcement approaches seeking to prosecute and punish.
The Independent published a piece yesterday covering the report, focusing on the impact of stop and search.