£370 million wasted on “pointless” knife crime sentences while reoffending increases

Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson Wera Hobhouse has called on the Government to “do what works” to prevent knife crime and repeal mandatory prison sentences for knife possession, as the party reveals that the Government has wasted more than £370 million on the policy while knife crime has soared.

New figures from the Ministry of Justice show that nearly 14,000 people have now been sentenced to prison under a law passed in 2015 requiring mandatory prison sentences for those convicted of a second offence of carrying a knife. Both the Conservative and Labour parties backed the law, while the Liberal Democrats opposed it.

The Ministry of Justice’s own analysis shows that sentences of less than a year lead to higher rates of reoffending than community sentences, and the President of the Prison Governors Association has described them as “pointless”. The average length of sentence is 7.6 months.

Using government figures for the cost per prisoner, the Liberal Democrats have calculated that these mandatory sentences have cost the taxpayer £375 million since they come into effect in 2016.

Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said: “Even before the Covid pandemic, the UK was in the grip of an epidemic of youth violence. The Government must invest in what works to prevent knife crime, not waste money on pointless short-term sentences.

Wera Hobhouse

“This law clearly hasn’t worked. The Conservatives said we needed to ‘send a message’ to stop people carrying knives, but five years on knife crime has soared.

“Young people are far more scared of being caught without a knife by a gang than being caught with a knife by the police. The threat of prison simply doesn’t work as a deterrent in this case.

“Even worse, the Conservatives have wasted more than £370 million on this policy, which should instead have gone to community policing and youth services – the things that actually prevent people carrying knives.”

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