Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Knife crime continues to rise

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Knife crime figures for 2018 show punitive approach isn't working.

Worst figures since 2009

Last Thursday, 14 March 2019, the MoJ published the knife and offensive weapon sentencing statistics for England and Wales for 2018.

The figures clearly show that the more punitive approach is not working. The statistics show another jump in the number of offences while at the same time reporting that a higher proportion of those convicted are being sent to prison and for longer.

The key findings are summarised below:


The statistics also reveal changes in the nature of offences. Just under two thirds (63%) of all knife and offensive weapon offences are now possession of blade or point offences, compared with just half (50%) in 2008.

The proportion of offences involving the possession of an article with a blade or point or the possession of an offensive weapon committed by an adult has remained at around 80% since 2008. However, since 2013 there has been a 8 percentage point increase in the proportion of offenders convicted or cautioned for a threatening with a knife or offensive weapon offence who were adults; increasing from 75% in 2013 to 83% in 2018.


Custodial sentences are now at the highest level they have been. In 2018 over a third (37% or 7,943 offences) of all knife and offensive weapon offences resulted in immediate custody compared with just 5,734 offences or 20% in 2008.

However, the proportion of offences resulting in a caution is at the lowest level it has ever been since the series began – 30% (8,523) of offences resulted in a caution during 2008, falling to just 11% (2,410) in 2018.

The average length of immediate custodial sentences received also increased over the period, from 5.3 months in 2008 to 8.1 months in 2018. This is the highest average custodial sentence length since the series began. The increase in average custodial length was seen in all age groups and offence types but particularly for adults, for whom it increased from 5.2 months in 2008 to 8.1 months in 2018, and for possession of blade or point offences, where it increased from 4.5 months in 2008 to 7.4 months in 2018.


Following the commencement of section 28 of the CJCA 2015, a court must impose a minimum sentence on an offender who has been convicted of a second or subsequent offence involving possession of a knife or offensive weapon. The court must impose the minimum sentence unless it would not be in the interest of justice to do so. 

In 2014, prior to the introduction of this legislation, around half (48%) of knife and offensive weapons possession offenders with at least one previous knife and offensive weapons offence received an immediate custodial sentence. In 2018 around two thirds (64%) of offenders sentenced under section 28 of the CJCA 2015 received an immediate custodial sentence. Overall 82% of offenders sentenced under section 28 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 in 2018 received some form of custodial sentence compared to 66% of offenders with at least one previous knife and offensive weapons offence in 2014.

Despite the fact that knife crime has continued to grow at the same time as the courts have been making much greater use of imprisonment for knife offences, the government’s main response has been to bring forward new legislation in the form of the Offensive Weapons Bill which a consensus of criminal justice experts have assessed as likely to be counter-productive. Here are the main objections put forward by the Standing Committee for Youth Justice and the Prison Reform Trust, arguing that the measures in the Bill will be ineffective because:

  • They increase the use of ineffective short mandatory minimum custodial sentences
  • They create legal uncertainty and may lead to disproportionate sentences
  • They are likely to increase BAME disproportionality and further damage trust in the justice system.

The organisations are also extremely concerned about the government’s proposals for a knife crime prevention order, “which can be imposed on the balance of probability and are highly likely to be net-widening, labelling,
disproportionately impact BAME communities, and impose more criminal sanctions on vulnerable children and young people.”

Many thanks to Safer Scotland whose “No Knives Better Lives” project has produced non-sensational stock images on knife crime for all to use in order to highlight the issue without inadvertently glorifying carrying knives. Copyright for the image used above is Open Aye.

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