Increase in custodial sentences
Yesterday, 14 June 2018, the MoJ published the knife and offensive weapon sentencing statistics for England and Wales for the year ending March 2018.
These make for chastening reading on two fronts. Firstly, the number of offences is the highest for six years; secondly there has been a big ump in the number of knife crime offenders sent to prison.
The key findings are summarised below:
The statistics also reveal changes in the nature of offences. Just under two thirds (62%) of all knife and offensive weapon offences are now possession of blade or point offences, compared with just half (51%) in the year ending March 2009.
Offences involving the possession of an article with a blade or point dealt with by the CJS in the year ending March 2018 are at the highest they have been since 2010 (13,144), with a 9% increase over the last year. Similarly, the number of threatening with a knife or offensive weapon offences increased by 26% over the same period. However, the number of possession of offensive weapon offences fell by 2%, halving over the last 10 years; falling from 13,780 in the year ending March 2009 to 6,867 in the year ending March 2018.
Custodial sentences are now at the highest level they have been. In the year ending March 2018 over a third (37% or 7,774 offences) of all knife and offensive weapon offences resulted in immediate custody compared with just 6,109 offences or 22% in the year ending March 2009.
However, the proportion of offences resulting in a caution is at the lowest level it has ever been – 27% of offences resulted in a caution during the year ending March 2009, falling to just 12% in the year ending March 2018.
A first-time knife and offensive weapons offender was more likely to receive a community sentence (29%) in the year ending March 2018 where as in the year ending March 2009 they were more likely to receive a caution (36%). The proportion receiving a suspended sentence has also increased over this period from 9% to 20%, with a similar increase seen for the proportion receiving immediate custody (15% to 23%).
For those with previous knife/offensive weapon offences, custody is much more likely with 61% receiving this
sentence in the year ending March 2018 compared with just 42% in the year ending March 2009. In contrast, cautions are now less likely to be received by these offenders, with just 1% receiving this sentence type in the year ending March 2018.
It is hard not to conclude that media coverage of knife crime combined with the introduction of section 28 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act which set minimum sentences for repeat knife crime offenders have resulted in much greater use of custody.