The latest in the probation inspectorate’s research and analysis bulletin series published last Friday (20 May, 2022) is entitled Promising approaches to knife crime: an exploratory study. Written by Dr Jake Phillips, Dr Kate Whitfield, Dr Paula Hamilton, Dr Fiona de Hoog and Dr Charlotte Coleman of Sheffield Hallam University, the bulletin identifies four groups of promising approaches. These are: diversionary activities; strengths-based approaches; knife crime programmes; and other ancillary interventions (e.g. health awareness, aftermath, and family interventions). The authors caution that evidence on the effectiveness of all of these approaches is limited.
Knife crime has been increasing in recent years. Current evidence suggests that knife crime is driven by a combination of poverty, marginalisation, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), trauma, fear and victimisation, including exploitation. You can see sentencing trends for knife crime offences, particularly the increased use of custody in my interactive chart below.
The researchers interviewed 77 people from five YOTs including caseworkers, managers and leaders, external stakeholders and children. The five YOTs were chosen because they were situated in areas where statistics showed a high prevalence of knife crime and there was some pre-existing evidence that the YOT had adopted promising approaches.
The study’s headline findings were:
- The nature of knife crime is changing, with participants suggesting it is both more prevalent and more serious than in previous years. This change has, in part, been driven by austerity and cuts to preventive services.
- Participants were keen to stress the importance of a ‘child first, offender second’ approach to working with children, reflecting the review of the youth justice system undertaken by Charlie Taylor in 2016. This involves taking a relational approach, individualising responses, and recognising and responding to trauma.
- We identified four groups of promising approaches. These are: diversionary activities; strengths-based approaches; knife crime programmes; and other ancillary interventions (e.g. health awareness, aftermath, and family interventions). The evidence on the effectiveness of all of these approaches is limited.
- Participants were keen to stress that a lack of resources and unhelpful commissioning arrangements were significant barriers to working with children when addressing knife crime.
- Participants felt that a public health approach holds significant potential for responding to knife crime. This approach combines prevention, secondary intervention and tertiary intervention to target all people in a community.
Implications & Recommendations
The researchers highlighted a number of key issues in their conclusions. The first was that, despite some elements of knife crime programmes being effective, these should be considered as just part of a framework which includes more individualised and trauma-informed work. Programmes alone should not be seen as a panacea to the problem of knife crime. Other conclusions included:
- Diversionary activities are considered to have potential but need careful evaluation
- Some programmes include the “scared straight” model which is known to be counter-productive.
- YOTs face budgetary and strategic problems in addressing knife crime to the extent which is required by the issue.
- Mentoring may be a key part of the response.
- Schools should be trauma-informed – exclusions and suspensions should be minimised, and alternatives to exclusion and suspension should be explored.
The research team emphasised that the key to addressing knife crime is early intervention and prevention, pointing out that once a child becomes involved with the criminal justice system, it can become more difficult to support them towards pro-social life choices.
Thanks to the No Knives, Better Lives initiative who have produced the non-sensationalist images of knife crime used in this blog post.