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‘Tougher sentences not the answer to knife crime’

YOUNG VICTIM: Jamil Palmer

TOUGHER SENTENCES without investment into stronger preventative measures will not stop knife crime, say campaigners.

The concerns follow proposals from justice secretary Chris Grayling to automatically jail any offender caught in possession of a knife for a second time.

 Once referred to as “the crime capital” because of its soaring numbers of knife crime, London has seen a fall in knife-related violations, with an 11.5 per cent drop in the numbers of offences in the year on March 2014.

 However, campaigners say knife crime is still a growing problem, particularly in the inner city areas like Newham, where it rose by 8.4 per cent to 738 incidents – the highest in the capital.

COALITION

Grayling’s proposed measures have led to in-fighting in the coalition with the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, accusing the minister of using draconian and ineffective measures in response to the high-profile stabbings of 61-year-old Leeds teacher Ann Maguire and 18-year-old Jamil Palmer who was knifed to death in Feltham, Hounslow last week.

 Ann Oakes-Odger from Knife Crimes.org, insists that a six-month mandatory sentence for a second offence would be “a step backward”.

 She said: “We already have in place, under the violent crime reduction act, the ability to hand down a jail sentence of four years.

“What we really need is several approaches. We have to educate and raise awareness of the consequences of youngsters carrying knives and getting involved in gangs.”

 Michael Smith, founder of Word 4 Weapons, which has a number of programmes aimed at tackling knife crime, admits that “jail has its place for persistent offenders”, but described Graylings measures as “using a sledge hammer to crack a nut”.

 He criticised the Government for refusing to fund organisations like the one he set up, which has collected over 10,000 weapons off the street to date.

 Smith said: “It can cost anywhere between £40,000 to £100,000 per year to keep a person in prison. It makes more sense to invest in organisations who can keep young people out of prisons.

 “If the justice minister wants to see a big drop in knife crime, he needs to sit around the table with people who are actually creating change.”

 Campaigner and managing director of Hackney-based community counselling service Beyond Feelings, Nerine O’Connor, called for a greater police presence.

 She said: “The police are good at responding once someone has been hurt or killed, but what we need is for them to be more visible before something kicks off.

PROTECT

“Some kids are carrying knives because they are trying to protect themselves. We need a robust anti-knife crime campaign that will work with families and troubled youths.”

O’Connor added: “Tougher sentences won’t really solve the problem. We need to get the message across to young people that they can talk about their issues instead of hurting or killing someone.”

Hazel Nelson-Williams, of the Nelson Williams Foundation, said tougher sentences could be a good deterrent.

She added: “However, the way that the prison system is set up produces hardened criminals in a good majority of cases, therefore we would propose a boot camp solution of mandatory training in a secure unit facility which would act as an alternative to prison.”

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