PM asked to host summit on “arms race” of knife crime

June 2, 2009 at 4:29 pm Leave a comment

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The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has called on the Prime Minister to host a Knife Crime Seminar at Downing Street with representatives of all the main political parties to discuss the conclusions of its new report.

The committee said that knife-enabled crime costs the country £1.25 billion a year and highlighted the benefits of applying an early intervention approach.

The MPs said that evidence suggests that violent DVDs and video games have a negative influence on those who watch and play them, contributing around 10 per cent of any person’s predisposition to be violent.

The 2008 MORI Youth Survey indicated that 31% of 11-16 year olds in mainstream education and 61% of excluded young people had carried a knife at some point over the course of the previous year.

Anecdotal evidence indicated that in certain areas levels of knife-carrying have risen to the extent that carrying a knife has almost become “normal,” according to the report.

The committe said that “sensationalist media coverage” of stabbings has contributed to this “arms race”.

“Negative media portrayals of young people as “feral youths”, when the vast majority are law-abiding, can add to a sense of being under attack,” according to the report.

“While we urge media organisations to report knife crime in a responsible manner, we also recognise the positive role that the media can play in mobilising communities against knife crime and acting as a conduit for anti-knife information and campaigns.”

The MPs called for better enforcement of current legislation regarding the sale of knives and expressed support for “the aims” of the government’s anti-knife media campaign.

“However, we are concerned that such campaigns may not reach the most at-risk young people and fail to engage with the realities of street violence.

“Evidence shows that children are most likely to be influenced by “real” stories, particularly the experiences of former offenders and the families of knife victims.

“We recommend that all Year Seven school children should participate in an assembly or lesson, delivered by trained individuals to whom children can relate, that focuses on the dangers of knife-carrying and the consequences for victims, their families and offenders.”

Committee chair Keith Vaz, said:

“Young people carry knives because they fear that others are carrying knives. This spiralling of knife possession puts all young people at risk.

“Too many tragic deaths have occurred because of this. We have to stop this arms race.

“Parental responsibility is also crucial; parents must ask their children about these issues.

“The vast majority of young people are law abiding but some of the stabbings and some negative portrayal of young people as “feral” add to the sense of young people being under attack.

“Some young people feel the need to protect themselves with knives. We are clearly failing them. Children, of all people, should not feel unsafe in our society.

“Sentencing must reflect the seriousness of the crime and the great harm that knives do, but the fact is that custody is not stopping people going on to commit more crime and also may not work to deter young people in particular from carrying a knife in the first place.

“We need a new tack here, at least partly based on making young people feel safer and reducing the exposure to violence in their lives.

“We were impressed by the work of the “gang exit” groups we spoke to, and by the success of Youth Inclusion Programmes.

“It may be becoming a truism now, but we cannot escape the fact that at its roots this is about education and inclusion of young people before it is about criminal justice, and we strongly recommend that government adopts a “public health” approach, that invests resources in prevention, to reducing knife crime.”

Click here to read the report.

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