Knife Crime - Home Affairs Committee Contents

7  Reducing violence: work with offenders

151. In chapter five, we argued in favour of consistent sentencing for knife offenders reflecting the severity of the offence. However, even those witnesses who supported the presumption towards custody were concerned about high re-offending rates, suggesting that a custodial sentence, while often an appropriate punishment, does not provide a long-term solution in its current form. In this chapter we look at ways of reducing re-offending, particularly in relation to changing attitudes towards knife offending and violent behaviour. We also consider work with low-level offenders or those on the cusp of offending to prevent them from graduating to more serious violent offending.

Work in prisons and young offenders institutions to change behaviour

152. Ministry of Justice research with around 5,000 adult prisoners showed that the odds of re-offending within a year were 58% overall, including 32% for those in custody for the first time and 69% for those with previous experience of custody.[219] The most recent statistics show that for every 100 juvenile offenders leaving custody in 2007, 115.7 re-offences were committed.[220] We were told that there is insufficient work in prisons and young offender institutes to address offending behaviour. Frances Crook, of the Howard League Penal Reform, gave us an example of one young man they had represented:

    Since he has been in prison he has had no treatment at all and he has been in for four years. So if you think that by sending people to prison they are going to get some kind of therapy or response to their offending that is not the case. He has lain on his bunk for four years and nothing has happened at all … At best they may do a three-week or a six-week offending behaviour course … I do accept that some people who have committed very serious offences must go into custody but that period in custody should be much more useful than it is at the moment. I know that a lot of these young people will spend four, six, ten years in custody and come out more dangerous, more violent and more frightening than when they went in. [221]

DCS Carnochan argued that "when we speak about mandatory sentencing, we should be thinking about mandatory intervention—that would be much more effective."[222]

153. The Government's approach to custody is that it is "first and foremost a punishment" but "alongside this punishment we must give offenders a chance to reform and change their behaviour".[223] A Youth Justice Board study of effective interventions to reduce re-offending notes a "high consensus" amongst evaluators that programmes addressing offenders' ways of thinking and the moral context of their thinking are "particularly promising".[224] The Enhanced Thinking Skills programme, for example, was introduced into prisons in the mid 1990s. It consists of 20 sessions run over a period of four-six weeks. A randomised control trial carried out in ten prisons to evaluate the programme found that adult male offenders who completed it showed a significant reduction in impulsivity (which research has linked with lower rates of re-offending), a significant reduction in frequency of prison security reports as well as improvement in attitudes to offending and attention to the consequences of personal actions.[225] We heard at first-hand the success of this kind of programme for some offenders during a visit to Aylesbury Young Offenders' Institution.

154. As part of the Tackling Knives Action Programme, the Youth Justice Board (YJB) set up a Knife Possession Prevention Programme in twelve Youth Offending Teams in July 2008 to work with 10-17 year olds who have been convicted of knife possession. As with educational campaigns aimed at young people more widely, the aim of the programme is to try and instil an understanding of the consequences of carrying a knife in terms of the damage that can be inflicted on victims, and the legal implications for offenders. When we took evidence from the YJB in January 2009, 150 young people had been through the programme. Bob Ashford, Acting Director of Strategy, said:

    We know anecdotally … that some of the most effective parts of that programme have been around the work of victims' organisations and victims who have been describing to young people what it feels like to be a victim. Again, anecdotally, the other parts of the programme we know that have been positively received are the kind of medical information that has been given by primary care trusts to young people about the effect of stabbings, wounding, et cetera, and the kind of damage they can do.[226]

Ministers told us that this scheme could include elements of meeting the families of knife crime victims.[227]

155. Where offenders are given very short sentences, there is insufficient time to address their behaviour. Evidence shows that adults sentenced to less than twelve months in custody are more likely to re-offend than those subject to longer periods.[228] The Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne MP, argued that "if short sentences are used, you find very high re-offending rates; 92% for example for a first custodial sentence for young men, and three-quarters for juveniles going into custody."[229]

156. The Government also aims to improve education and employment opportunities for prisoners as another means of reducing the likelihood of re-offending. More than half of prisoners leave school with no qualifications, and a third with literacy skills at the same level as or below those expected for an 11 year old child.[230] Shaun Bailey, of MyGeneration, argued:

    Absolutely you need to educate children in jail. Jail is the one time that you as a government have the right and the opportunity to compel young people to engage in education. If you are a young person and you were in jail and you were not doing your GCSEs I would lengthen your stay.[231]

157. We heard about the workshop in HMP Liverpool run in partnership with the footwear company Timpsons, who train prisoners in technical, repair and customer service skills then seek to provide them with jobs within the company when they leave prison. We were also made aware of the National Grid Transco scheme in Reading prison, which offers training and employment opportunities for people leaving custody: following the pilot, 70% of participants subsequently found sustainable employment and only around 7% were subsequently reported as re-offending.[232] The Government has also opened a data cabling workshop at HMP Wandsworth with Cisco, Panduit and Bovis Lend Lease and a tool repair workshop at HMP Stocken in partnership with Travis Perkins.[233]

158. The Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling MP, told us that the Conservative Party have "quantified the savings to be made if we can prevent somebody from re-offending" and "put forward a proposal for a structure that would allow governors to access that in partnership with independent organisations on a payment by results basis to deliver much better rehabilitation within prisons and after people have been in prison."[234]

Resettlement on release from custody

159. One of the key factors contributing to the high levels of recidivism is the number of offenders who do not have a stable home or a job (or education establishment in the case of young offenders) upon release. The odds of re-offending increased by 43% for prisoners reporting both employment and accommodation problems on release.[235] The Rainer/RESET publication, The Business Case for Youth Resettlement, identified the huge cost of ineffective resettlement.[236] Chris Grayling MP argued that "we should make it a matter of absolute routine that somebody who leaves prison without a job to go to—and one assumes that is pretty much everybody—goes straight onto a structured back to work programme of the kind that we would offer across the welfare system for the longer-term unemployed and of the kind that is used in other countries."[237] The YJB argued:

    When young people have been involved in offending and have had community sentences, maybe even custody, actually trying to re-engage those young people back into mainstream schools or get them other educational provision can be extremely difficult, and the whole issue is around resettlement. How you support young people once they have gone through with their punishment and paid the price for what they have done, how you support them back into mainstream life is a big issue.[238]

160. The YJB has established a Resettlement and Aftercare Programme in 50 youth offending team areas which provides 25 core hours of support to access information and education, training and employment, as well as peer and family support work and ongoing access to substance misuse and mental health treatment.[239] The YJB Chair, Frances Done, strongly advocated an increased focus by local authorities on support for finding accommodation, getting back into training, jobs, education, and personal mentoring "which is so difficult to find [but] is equally important as anything you do individually with a young person on first detention in custody." Given its cost, this support should be targeted at offenders "who are ready or in the frame of mind where they may start to think seriously about not offending again".[240] The Prince's Trust told us about a mentoring scheme they are running in three prisons, which involves using former offenders who have reformed themselves to meet young people at the prison gate and support the transition process.[241]

161. While we advocate the use of custody for violent knife offenders and some knife possessors, we are concerned about high re-offending rates among both adult prisoners and young offenders. Reducing re-offending is key to tackling violent crime in the long-term. There is currently insufficient work in prisons and young offender institutions to address offending behaviour. Young offenders in particularly are likely to be impulsive and not consider the consequences of their actions; evaluations of cognitive behavioural programmes, such as Enhanced Thinking Skills, appear to show positive results. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice should expand provision so that more prisoners and young offenders who are judged likely to benefit can participate in such programmes.

162. We heard anecdotally that the Knife Possession Prevention Programme run for all young people convicted of knife possession in Tackling Knives Action Programme areas has had a positive influence on their behaviour. We recommend that an evaluation is carried out to measure re-offending rates and, if judged to be a success, long-term funding for the programme is made available.

163. Improving literacy and skills can also reduce the likelihood of re-offending. More than half of prisoners leave school with no qualifications, and a third with literacy skills at the same level as or below those expected for an 11 year old child. We commend those private companies, such as Timpsons, National Grid Transco, Cisco, Panduit and Bovis Lend Lease and Travis Perkins, who are working with prisons to improve the employment prospects of prisoners. The Government should consider offering incentives for more companies to become involved in such partnerships. A Ministry of Justice study found that odds of re-offending increased by 43% for prisoners reporting both employment and accommodation problems on release. We therefore also advocate increased resettlement support targeted at prisoners who have demonstrated in prison they are unlikely to re-offend.

Gang exit strategies

164. Without support, offenders may find it difficult to fulfil any good intentions made in custody when they return to their community. On the basis of the evidence she heard during her research for Why Carry a Weapon?, prison governor Nicola Marfleet questioned how effective interventions carried out in prisons to address behaviour can be "where a juvenile returns post-custody to the very culture that gave rise to and reinforced their criminal actions". The four young offenders whom she interviewed at Feltham all expressed a desire to stay out of trouble on release but only one suggested that disengaging from "hanging out on the streets" could be a way to ensure this.[242]

165. A former young offender told us that he was only really able to change his behaviour pattern by moving away from the area.[243] However, this is not always easy. Kirk Dawes, a former police officer who founded West Midlands Mediation and Transformation Services [WMMTS] to resolve disputes between rival gang members noted that:

    They gravitate back. There is a lot of work going on to relocate people and move them out of the gangs, but everything they know is normally contained within the community. That is why mediation, conflict management or conflict resolution should be utilised; otherwise, they will go back to where they came from. You actually deal with the issue.[244]

Conflict resolution

166. The processes used by WMMTS are influenced by techniques used in Northern Ireland where people with a history of extreme violence towards each other are persuaded to sit down together with mediators and talk about their differences. Mediators include a forensic psychologist, former gang members, firemen, youth offending workers, probation officers and mothers who have lost their children to violence. WMMTS mainly takes referrals from the community: often gang members who are about to be released from prison will phone to ask for help in resolving a conflict with a rival gang member, for which they may have received a prison sentence, but the underlying problem has not been resolved. As well as taking referrals, through the Birmingham Reducing Gang Violence Partnership the multi-agency public protection panel uses intelligence from the public authorities and the community to target gang members.

167. Kirk Dawes explained why the approach works. Firstly, it has an advantage over police-led approaches in that the service can act in response to rumour and innuendo rather than waiting until actual violence has been committed. Secondly, the mediators are able "to start the dialogue that [gang members] will find difficult to have, or indeed cannot be seen to have, and in that way we slow it down."[245] Thirdly, they can create the conditions that means people have a chance to get on with the positive aspects of their lives:

    What we do is create the peace. If people go back into education, training or employment they can put their time into that rather than look over their shoulder or plan retaliation and revenge.[246]

The 'Boston miracle'

168. We also took evidence from the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) on their gang exit strategy. The VRU employs a tactic used successfully in Boston, USA—referred to as the 'Boston miracle'—to combat gang crime in the 1990s: gang members were offered the choice between support for finding jobs and counselling or told they would face longer, harsher custodial sentences. This contributed to a reduction in violent crime in Boston of about 50% in two years.[247]

169. The VRU's Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan described how they had gone about this in Glasgow in the autumn of 2008. Strathclyde Police used intelligence to identify all the gangs and gang members in the area and invite them to a meeting with police officers, teachers, social workers and community workers; 150 of the 220 invited turned up. There were a series of presentations including from the Chief Constable, who made the gang members aware of the extent of police knowledge about them and how seriously they would be targeting them, Medics Against Violence, who gave graphic accounts of the damage caused by violence, former gang members, a mother whose son had been attacked and life coaches. At the end, they were given a card with a phone number on it and told to stand up if they were prepared to seek help to change:

    When he said, "Right, stand up", first of all ten stood up and then maybe 15, and then 20. Every one of them stood up except three and … In the afternoon we had 55 adults in … They all stood up. We had six young men in from Polmont Prison who were in the dock with prison officers. They would not leave until they had been given a card with a phone number on it. They have already been on the phone saying, "I get out in seven months. Will this still be here?" It will be. Within the first four weeks 70 contacted us, and they are now in programmes … It might be about education, it might be about readiness for work, it might be about alcohol counselling, drug counselling, it might be housing, it can be a whole range of things. We have also set up a football tournament with 160 involved in it and yesterday morning my DCI, who is the project manager, received a phone call from the sub-divisional officer, who said, "I am just phoning you, Andy, to let you know, I had no disturbance calls in Easterhouse over the weekend." So we know it works … It is our ability to deliver it consistently that is the challenge.[248]

170. We were also made aware of the Pathways initiatives in London, intended to target violent offenders operating in street gangs through the provision of direct support coupled with close monitoring and police-led enforcement[249] and the Safer Southwark Partnership's programme of home visits to confront young people involved in or at risk of becoming involved in gang activity, with their parents.[250] During a previous inquiry, we had visited Manchester to hear about the success of their Multi-Agency Gang Strategy in reducing gun crime.

171. We were impressed with innovative gang exit and violence reduction strategies employed in Strathclyde and the West Midlands, which use different methods but share a multi-agency approach and replicate good practice from the United States and Northern Ireland respectively. We believe that local partnerships are best placed to develop solutions tailored to the needs of their communities, but recommend the establishment of a cross-departmental unit at Government level, along the lines of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, whose role is to oversee the work of partnerships in this area and spread good practice.

Work with low-level offenders and those at risk of offending

172. The Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling MP, argued that the system does not seek to intervene at the first signs of trouble, which often occur in the form of anti-social behaviour when young people start secondary school: there is "nothing in between the problem and the criminal justice system."[251] While it is true that young people have been increasingly criminalised over the past decade, the Youth Justice Board gave evidence about some of their interventions which take place prior to offending. Firstly, they have established a police toolkit with the Association of Chief Police Officers to identify, from intelligence held by police, Youth Offending Teams and schools, young people who are at risk and then draw together local organisations to assess the risk posed by that young person and the type of intervention needed to divert them from potential offending behaviour. In contrast to the feedback we heard from Policy Exchange, the Youth Justice Board argued that the ability of youth offending teams to do prevention work has greatly increased recently.[252]

173. The Youth Justice Board has also developed a range of initiatives with the Department for Children, Schools and Families to try to prevent young people from offending. These include youth inclusion programmes (YIPs), which were established in 2000 for 8-17 year olds at risk of re-offending, future offending or school exclusion. They were designed particularly to offer intensive interventions to the 50 young people in the most deprived communities in England and Wales who are most at risk of this behaviour, but also offer activities open to all young people in the area. The programme includes "positive activities for young people, triage schemes to try to divert young people in police custody suites, the increasing use of youth workers in terms of outreach work out in the communities, obviously, where young people are engaging in this kind of activity."[253]

174. Two fairly positive evaluations of YIPs have been carried out. For example, evaluation of phase 2 of the programme, which ran from 2003 to 2006, found that on average 82% of the core 50 in each area had been engaged at some point. Although YIPs struggled to maintain a high level of contact throughout the programme, there was a decrease in average offending of 66% for those who were engaged to any point (to put this in context, rates for young people in general are expected to fall by 55% regardless of intervention as many young people 'grow out' of criminal behaviour). Furthermore, the average cost per young person over the three years was only £1,641.[254] A young witness who gave evidence with 11 MILLION described the impact of a YIP:

    What the YIP has done, it has done a lot for the teenagers of Midland because it has taken them off the streets and it has reduced the crimes that have been committed because those teenagers have been taken off the street. By taking them off, we have prevented—well not "we" but the YIP—a burglary, a stabbing, any type of crime and with that moving we can all see the crime rate shooting back up to large numbers again.[255]

175. We also took evidence from the Scout Association about the beneficial impact of organised activity for young people at risk of offending. While scout groups do not generally target any specific group of young people, in Essex a group has been running for about 13 years taking referrals from schools, social services and projects working particularly with young people whose parents are in prison and takes them away for weekend training, which combines activities such as camping and rock climbing with mentoring:

    They are people who, when you look at other studies about what the motivating factors for young people getting involved in antisocial behaviour might be, have those factors. We have anecdotal and tracking evidence that proves the difference that it makes to those young people to have that moment where somebody actually says, "You know what, you're worth something. We're going to invest in you" … and it does work …

    The first and foremost test for us is the young people who want to come back. It is young people who perhaps you would not think of wanting to be involved in these kinds of organisations who clamour to come back, whose organisations write to us asking for more spaces and for us to increase the number of kids that we work with.[256]

176. Witnesses told us that Youth Inclusion Programmes are helping the young people who are most at risk of offending or school exclusion in deprived communities to stay out of trouble. About half of teenagers "grow out" of crime, but an evaluation showed that arrest rates for those who had engaged with a YIP decreased by a further 10%. We were also impressed by the comparatively low costs involved. We therefore recommend that the Government continues to fund Youth Inclusion Programmes as a means of reducing youth crime.

219   Ministry of Justice, Research Summary Five: Factors linking to re-offending: a one-year follow-up to prisoners who took part in the Resettlement Surveys 2001, 2003 and 2004, October 2008 Back

220   Ministry of Justice, Re-offending of juveniles: results from the 2007 cohort, England and Wales, May 2009  Back

221   Qq 296, 306 Back

222   Q 199 Back

223   Ministry of Justice, Punishment and Reform: Our Approach to Managing Offenders, December 2008, Summary, p 8 Back

224   Youth Justice Board, Offending Behaviour Programmes: Source Document, 2008, p 25 Back

225   Ministry of Justice, Evaluation of HM Prison Service Enhanced Thinking Skills programme, March 2009 Back

226   Qq 173, 184 Back

227   Q 550 Back

228   Ministry of Justice, Research Summary Five: Factors linking to re-offending: a one-year follow-up to prisoners who took part in the Resettlement Surveys 2001, 2003 and 2004, October 2008 Back

229   Q 523 Back

230   Ministry of Justice, Punishment and Reform: Our Approach to Managing Offenders, December 2008, Summary, p 8 Back

231   Q 327 Back

232   The Smith Institute, CSR in action: a review of the Young Offenders Programme led by National Grid Transco, 2005 Back

233   Q 578; Ministry of Justice, Punishment and Reform: Our Approach to Managing Offenders, December 2008, Summary, p 9 Back

234   Q 515 Back

235   Ministry of Justice, Research Summary Five: Factors linking to re-offending: a one-year follow-up to prisoners who took part in the Resettlement Surveys 2001, 2003 and 2004, October 2008 Back

236   Rainer/RESET, The Business Case for Youth Resettlement, August 2007 Back

237   Q 516 Back

238   Q 172 Back

239   Youth Justice Board website,, accessed 11 May 2009  Back

240   Q 181 Back

241   Q 293 Back

242   Nicola Marfleet, Why Carry a Weapon? A Study of Knife Crime Amongst 15-17-Year Old Males in London (London: Howard League for Penal Reform, 2008), p 79-82 Back

243   Q 284 [Witness 3, The Prince's Trust] Back

244   Q 425 Back

245   Q 412 Back

246   Q 419 Back

247   "Boston Miracle inspires UK's gang fight", BBC News Online, 16 November 2007,  Back

248   Q 213 Back

249   Ev 131 Back

250   Ev 178 Back

251   Q 501 Back

252   Q 186 Back

253   Q 175 Back

254   Youth Justice Board, Evaluation of the youth justice programme: phase 2, 2008, Summary, pp 8-10  Back

255   Q 359 Back

256   Qq 249-50 Back

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