A public health approach to knife crime

In the last twelve months, there has been significant growing concern about the rapid growth in knife crime. This obviously places a substantial burden on the police, on health care services (notably the hospitals and ambulance), and most importantly on the families affected.

Knife crime also has a negative ripple effect on whole communities, this includes, but is certainly not limited to, the normalisation of violent behaviour, the normalisation of carrying weapons – all normalisations witnessed by our children who, in some cases, will go on to carry knives creating a cycle of harm.

We know that the majority of those prosecuted for knife crime had a troubled upbringing. This is a key focus for public services as these adverse childhood experience can have immediate consequences which are very damaging to children. What is very clear now in the science is the life-long consequences on physical, emotional and mental health these experiences can have. There are very clear links between exposure to adverse childhood experiences and criminal justice, employment and educational outcomes. Breaking the cycle across generations is important.

In a bid to address this we consider the long term benefits of giving people routes out of violent crime and rehabilitation of offenders to break the cycle. This may be through employment, training, education, volunteering and other mechanisms.

We, as a society, cannot arrest our way out of this issue. An arrest can start a downward spiral in a young person’s life which further perpetuates the cycle. That’s not to say an arrest isn’t appropriate, as in some cases it will be, but we must also aim to address the issues which are causing the person to offend. By creating the right environment at the earliest opportunity, we can support our young people in making decisions away from crime, prevent them from further normalising crime for their children and ultimately help them to break the cycle and reduce knife crime.