Monday, 6 July 2009

Is a multi-dimensional approach to knife-crime needed?

Serious benefits can be gained from a broad approach to knife-crime, that deals not only with deterring putative offenders, but also one that changes the culture of conduct amongst young-people. Knife crime is a serious issue harming a significant portion of society. Hackney in London, for example, has more than one knife crime incident per day. There is much that can be done for those who are likely to be knife-crime offenders. Many of them do not even know that it is illegal to carry a knife, hence the Government’s change of law will have limited deterrence impact in the short-term. To change this a simple remedy of out-reaching this information into schools, youth organisations, young-offenders and school absconder units with a message of illegality can go someway. The other method, through videos and small-talks, is education in these units of the harmful effects of knife-crime on families to young-people. This would, hopefully, bring about a culture change of young-people, including instances where they might ostracise others who are willing to carry knives.
One of the key reasons why young people are susceptible to carrying knives is due to fear of being bullied and intimidated. Thus removing the fear, and the bullying and aggressive behaviour towards one another is key in solving this problem. The message of harm and illegality, as described above, needs to be put in with a message that demonstrates that bullying is cowardice, and that it is only carried out by those who are fearful. This may cause some young people to ostracise bullies and minimise gang groupings that are likely to offend. Further, by reducing the fear of being picked on it will disincentivise those who feel like picking up a knife to defend themselves.

For those who are ostracised from out-reaching programmes to deal with knife crime, specialist group out-reaching may be needed. This may link into other crime prevention programmes in youth criminal justice policy. For example, New Labour t introduced the social assistance category called NEETS (Not in Education, Employment or Training). Part of the reason for doing this is to analyse in-group those that are disaffected so as to minimise long term reliance on social benefits, and to assist them in returning to the mainstream of society (See the Labour Government’s flawed 2001 White Paper on Transforming Youth Work). Identifying young people who are socially disaffected, such as some of the NEETS, is the first step in preventing them falling into the criminal justice system. By then doing the secondary analysis of factors that are likely to create NEETS categorisation, or those socially disaffected, and eliminating the causes of those NEETS and absconders who are likely to turn into offenders can be minimised. Even if this is possible, it will not enervate wholly the numbers of youth offenders, but it may however reduce numbers. Some of the factors that go into NEETS categorisation will range from the following, either cumulatively or individually. They demonstrate some of the difficult, though manageable causes of youth disaffection and offending:

(i) Single parent family background without adequate support.
(ii) Unemployment history amongst parents.
(iii) Lack of higher education amongst parent(s)
(iv) Being brought up in social housing
(v)Lack of family or schooling based awareness on the importance of education to employability
(vi) Being brought up in particular areas where opportunities are less with a lack of incentive to travel for and search for labour.
(vii) Lack of appreciation of benefits of employment to social choice and lifestyle. Several disaffected youths have never seen an employed environment or ever noted the capital benefits of labour.
(viii) School truancy.
(ix) Lack of assistance in destitute or violent homes and family background.

As a general proposition, it reduces cost to national revenue in the long-run to remove those going through the criminal justice system and place them on the labour-market. This further increases their chances of benefiting society (assuming that necessarily skills can be transferred). Thus it is worth investigating the above factors as part of a number of chronic causes of crime and treating them one by one, as far as possible. Many of the above criteria are related to two key issues: (i) understanding the benefits of socially acceptable behaviour and; (ii) understanding the benefits of education. Due to lack of external factors, such as schools and families, educating and training these ‘benefits’ to the disaffected there is little culture change in conduct or approach to life. Thus the reason not use a knife on a victim is never fully appreciated.

Copyright APG Pandya
The Birkenhead Society