Knife orders will lead to 'unnecessary criminalisation of young people'

By Joe Lepper

| 26 September 2019

Youth justice campaigners and councils have raised concerns that tough new laws to combat knife crime could lead to children being unnecessarily criminalised and imprisoned.

The government should properly consider the views of young people before bringing in new Knife Crime Prevention Orders, say children's rights campaigners. Photo: Robin Hammond/Icon

The Home Office wants to bring in knife crime prevention orders (KCPOs), that can be imposed on any person aged 12 or over if police suspect they are carrying a knife or against those with a previous knife crime conviction.

Under the orders the courts could impose curfews, stop people associating with certain people and also restrict movement detailing which parts of the country cannot be visited.

But an alliance of youth justice groups, the Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ), says that separate and distinct guidance for their use on children needs to be brought in to ensure their welfare is protected.

SCYJ director Pippa Goodfellow warns that KCPOs, which are being introduced through this year's Offensive Weapons Act, will lead to "young people being criminalised at a disproportionate rate".

She also wants the government to consider the views of young people "who are affected by violence" before bringing in the orders.

She said: "Where are the voices of those who are most likely to be directly impacted by the orders?"

The SCYJ is additionally concerned that the orders are being brought in by the government without proof they will effectively reduce knife crime.

The possibility of up to two years in custody for those in breach of the orders is another concern raised by the SCYJ.

"There is no evidence that orders like these are effective at tackling harmful behaviour or will address the root causes of knife carrying," states the SCYJ's response to a government consultation on the orders.

"We remain extremely concerned that these civil orders are to be imposed on children as young as 12 on the basis of probability rather than a criminal standard of proof.

"This is despite the severe, lengthy and potentially unlimited restrictions which could be imposed as part of an order, and the punitive criminal sanctions for breach of up to two years in custody."

The response adds: "The SCYJ and our members would strongly recommend that that Home Office publishes separate and distinct KCPO guidance for children."

The Local Government Association shares concerns around the adverse impact of the orders on children.

Its consultation submission says: "It will be essential to ensure the new orders effectively tackle knife crime.

"These orders should not contribute to the unnecessary criminalisation of young people."

Youth justice groups involved with the SCYJ are particularly concerned that the orders could lead to an increase in children being disproportionally imprisoned.

The Prison Reform Trust's head of policy and communications Mark Day, said: "How can sending a child as young as 12 to prison for breaching a civil order imposed on the balance of probabilities be considered an effective, fair or proportionate response to the complex problem of knife carrying?"

Association of Youth Offending Team Managers chair Andy Peaden, wants the government to focus more on early preventative support for those at risk of knife crime.

"This would more closely constitute a genuine public health approach, ensuring children of all ages are provided with the support they need to stay away from serious violence, as well as helping to eliminate the climate in which violence breeds," he said.

Nacro director of education and skills Lisa Capper added: "Young people have told us that access to education in a safe place and learning to stay safe from others is a large part of the solution - more supervisory orders are not."

Last month the Home Secretary Priti Patel said the act was necessary to "cracking down on violent crime, which has a devastating impact on victims, their families and our communities".

The Home Office has been contacted for comment.

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