To tackle knife crime there must be a mandatory sentence not just for over-18s, but for anyone who brandishes a knife as a threat.
By Nick de Bois MP
It is a sad reflection on our society that it is no longer a surprise when knives are carried by children. We have moved on from the times when children were innocent and playgrounds were places of petty squabbles over football. Some school children studying for GCSEs are gang members. Outside the school gates machetes and knives are found in the hands of these same school children. Teenagers are using knives to threaten and assault – sometimes even kill – their fellow pupils. Our government needs to get to grips with this problem, and it cannot do so without removing these young offenders from our streets, and placing them in prison.
Doing so clearly benefits our society. Our streets are made safer as those who brandish knives receive swift retribution, an example is set, and the escalation of violence is stopped. A perception ripples through communities, families and generations that if you use a knife to threaten or assault someone, you will go to prison. Full stop. Soft sentences do nothing to tackle gang culture and community breakdown. The message our justice secretary should be sending out is clear: 'No matter who you are, if you carry or threaten someone with a knife, you will go to prison'.
Only the other last week seven members of a street gang who hunted down and killed 16-year-old Nicholas Pearton were sentenced. All the offenders were 16- and 17-years-old and they serve as a reminder of why we need to discourage young people embracing a knife culture. Judge Anthony Morris criticised the CPS for not doing enough to make young people aware of the consequences of running with gangs where knives are carried.
Contrary to the arguments of those who peddle soft justice, the approach of longer sentencing is also best for the offender. There is no considerable benefit in giving a community sentence to a 16-year-old who has threatened another citizen with a knife. They remain on the streets with other gang members and disruptive friends, they are still visible to the community as a sign of a weak and ineffective justice system, and they will continue to offend until they are eventually placed in prison five years down the line, when they have hardened and developed their bad habits. If you imprison these young people early and for a significant period of time, then you can break this cycle of offending.
Through removal from their damaging environments and being placed in a suitable prison young offenders can be effectively rehabilitated and receive new qualifications. They can learn new life skills, get a sense of right and wrong and foresee the disastrous path they are beginning to tread. Without this firm, early and constructive response, the offender remains on the streets where they are a danger to society and themselves. There are some exciting developments with the third sector showing dramatic improvement in rehabilitation and reduction in re-offending rates and we should embrace this skill set with young offenders urgently.
That's why I will be tabling an amendment to justice secretary Ken Clarke's sentencing bill, calling for the mandatory prison sentence for knife crime to apply to under-18s as well as adults. We need to send a clear message to youth offenders, who for too long have got away with Asbos and counselling for their shocking crimes. We should not stand for it anymore. We need to send a message to young people who may think of using a knife: you are responsible for your actions. If you use a knife to threaten or endanger a life, you will go to prison. Regardless of age.
Nick de Bois has been the Conservative MP for Enfield North since 2010.
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