Increase in custodial sentences
Last Thursday, 13 September 2018, the MoJ published the knife and offensive weapon sentencing statistics for England and Wales for the year ending June this year.
The overall number of annual offences was a very small increase from the previous quarter – 21,101 up fro 21,045. Nevertheless, this increase was enough to make the number of offences the worst for eight years. It appears that the government’s tougher sentencing approach is having little impact; the figures have risen despite 83% offenders getting a custodial sentence.
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 (51%) in the year ending June 2009.
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 2009. However, since the year ending June 2018 there has been a 20 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 61% in the year ending June 2013 to 81% in 2018.
Custodial sentences are now at the highest level they have been. In the year ending June 2018 over a third (36% or 7,649 offences) of all knife and offensive weapon offences resulted in immediate custody compared with just 6,212 offences or 23% in the year ending June 2009.
However, the proportion of offences resulting in a caution is at the lowest level it has ever been – 25% (6,779) of offences resulted in a caution during the year ending June 2009, falling to just 11% (2,408) in the year ending June 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. Since the introduction of the legislation there has also been an increase in the average custodial sentence lengths, from 7.1 months in the year ending June 2017 to 7.9 months in the year ending June 2018.
It seems to me 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.