MPs raise concerns over tougher knife crime guidelines' impact on prison populations

‘We think that the Ministry of Justice should be asked to clarify how any increase in the prison population would be accommodated,’ says Justice Select Committee chair Bob Neill. 

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MPs have raised concerns over tougher knife crime sentencing guidelines due to the “substantial” impact it could have on the escalating prison population in Britain. 

In a report from the Justice Select Committee in Westminster, the MPs said the Sentencing Council – the independent body responsible for issuing the guidelines – expected the new draft guidelines on knife crime to increase the number of custodial sentences handed down.

It comes after the latest figures from the Council of Europe claimed Britain had the largest prison population in western Europe at 95,248.

The committee considered three sets of draft sentencing guidelines, including possession of a bladed article or weapon, threatening with a bladed article or offensive weapons and bladed articles and offensive weapons.

Under draft guidance the offences all carry mandatory minimum sentences if six months’ imprisonment for an adult or four months for those aged 16 and 17. Just two years ago in response to concerns over knife crime in Britain, similar sentences were introduced for second or subsequent possession offences.

Sir Bob Neill, chair of the Justice Select Committee, told The Independent that “there are good reasons for increasing sentences to deter the growth in knife crime”.

He added: “We appreciate how difficult it is for the Sentencing Council to predict the impact of new guidelines, but we are concerned about the prospect of a substantial increase in the number of custodial sentences if the draft guidelines are introduced in their present form without a better understanding of their impact.

“We think that the Ministry of Justice should be asked to clarify how any increase in the prison population would be accommodated.”

Using data from the Sentencing Council, the report adds the information indicates a steady increase in the use and length of custodial sentences for possession offences over the past decade.

The MPs on the Justice Committee recommend that the council should ask the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to consider how any predicted increase in the prison population though these new sentencing guidelines might be accommodated.

Richard Burgon, the Shadow Justice Secretary, said that knife crime “continues to blight society and it is right that those carrying knives face prison sentences”.

He continued: “Ministers pledged tougher action on sentencing, but they are failing to provide adequate resources to make this a reality.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: “We are clear that those who carry knives should feel the full force of the law. These new guidelines will help ensure sentences reflect the devastation caused to families and communities.”