The House of Commons Select Committee report on knife crime is published today, and it's well worth reading - good to be reminded of the important work that MPs do amid all the kerfuffle about expenses claims.
The report underlines lots of the things that I've tried to include in When I Was Joe, about the fear that young people feel on the streets, and the basic thoughtlessness of many
These were very telling quotes from young offenders:
It was not like I was carrying it because I was going to go and stab someone, it was just other people were doing it so it was just like an arms race. I think in a way—and this is a personal opinion—to make it equal, governments have nuclear weapons because someone else has got nuclear weapons. It is to defend ourselves. No-one wants to use it but it is just there as a deterrent
The police are saying that they keep you safe, but the police ain't gonna protect you 24-7, 52-weeks. Obviously you've got to have something to protect you …
When you are in that experience, when my friend got stabbed when I was with him on the bus, the other gang came on the bus, we had a ruck, he got stabbed, we did not realise and then afterwards because he had been stabbed everyone was like, "We have got to get them." It does not go through your mind at all about prison or whatever; it does not exist.
Some of those giving evidence were the parents of victims of stabbings, parents who have turned their crippling grief into powerful positive campaigns against knife crime. For example Mrs Oakes-Odger goes into schools to talk to young people about the loss of her son:
I speak to them about what happened to Westley. I show them Westley through their growing up years so that they relate to Westley as being someone within their age field and then the understanding comes out of his story, what relevance that is to them going through their school years; I speak to them ab
out their discos, their social events, where an innocent situation can evolve and, if you have a knife, instead of a possible disagreement where bumps and bruises are involved, with a knife in their pocket, potentially, therein is a life-threatening situation which they then relate to only in terms of missing fingers. I find that showing young people pictures of injuries that they can relate to, such as fingers hanging off, has more relevance to them … I relate with them about Westley's story as a mum so that they can think about, "How would I feel if my brother or sister was missing and my mother was hurting at the loss of my brother or sister?"
The MPs conclude that prison is not a sufficient deterrent, according to Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs committee: "We need a new tack here, at least partly based on making young people feel safer and reducing the exposure to violence in their lives."
Hopefully more areas will follow the example of Strathclyde police who told the MPs about an excellent initiative in one of Glasgow's rougher areas:
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.