Understanding Knife Crime In Scotland

Have Face Walk Away

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Table Of Contents


1.    Executive Summary

2.    Introduction

3.    Knife Carrying

3.1. Defensive vs Offensive weapon-carrying

3.2. Crime Victimisation

4.    Family Relationships

4.1. Sociological Inheritance

4.2. Territoriality

5.    Peer Relationships

5.1. Peer Influence

5.2. Popularity Amongst Peers

5.3. Previous Offending Amongst Peers

5.4. Gender Relation and Peers

6.    Alcohol

6.1. Alcohol Typologies

6.2. Alcohol and Violence

6.3. Alcohol and Weapons

6.4. Overall Alcohol Related Offenses

6.5. Drug and Alcohol related Homicide in Scotland                                   

7.    Gangs

7.1. The Nature and Impact Of Gangs

7.2. Individual Vulnerability

8.    Strain Theory

9.    Policy based on Ambiguous Statistical Findings

9.1. Measuring the Immeasurable

10.  Intervention Strategies

10.1. Perspectives and Viewpoints towards Recidivism

11.  Conclusion





Knife crime in Scotland is typically linked to a ‘booze and blades’ culture. This paper strived to give a factual account critically analysing the relationship between alcohol and weapon-related violence in Scotland. Dysfunctional familial relationships, gangs, fear of victimization, low self esteem all have different roles at different developmental stages that can either: exacerbate or alleviate violent criminogenic tendencies. There are other factors that add to the complex interrelationship of alcohol and knife crime including a persistence of violent territorial conflict between groups of youth gangs, and also low socio-economical factors including families living in disadvantaged and marginalised neighbourhoods. Alcohol and knife related violence creates restricted mobility and criminalisation, which can lead to a self-perpetuating life on the wrong side of the law. In recent years there has been a growing concern about the existence of youth gangs, alcohol and violent conflict between individuals and gang members using knives and other weapons. However, there is mixed information based on evidence relating to the nature, form and prevalence of youth ‘gangs’ and knife carrying in Scotland. Recognising these information shortfalls, the research has reported on several problem areas and produced potential policies that could alleviate some of these problems. Some of the findings are listed here:



  • Many young people carry knives not with the deliberate intention to harm, but to protect themselves or to gain respect from peers. It is important to decrease fear of crime and to rejuvenate low social-economic schemes to give young people alternative strategies to build self-esteem.
  • Territoriality and familial aspects are culturally embedded, which forms idiosyncratic ‘Norms of behaviour’. Such Norms are acquired through social learning and can lead to automatic behavioural choices: viewing social cues differently, aggression, fighting for one’s territory.
  • Adolescence, a period of increased sensitivity to peer pressure, a heightened propensity towards risk taking and decreased sensitivity to punishment, adds to the risk of becoming involved in gangs and violent conflicts.
  • The probability of predict whether and when individual will commit a violent crime is near impossible, however, research into the psychology of violent behaviour has revealed individual and social factors that are likely to increase the prospect of a violent act.
  • Commitment to decriminalization and destigmatization appears to be failing many young people. A ‘Zero-Tolerance’ approach can create a circuitous loop for offenders within the legal system. Diversionary strategies facilitate the desistance process.
  • To decrease recidivism, custodial punishment should focus on long term, psychological and social interventions. Universal aspects can change a young person’s social environment, or they can be given cognitive tools to diminish the impact of a negative social environment.
  • To increase efficiency there should be universality to all interventions and they should be designed based on scientific theories and evidence. Multi-agency partnerships that involved, schools, local authorities and community organisations in challenging longstanding cultural divisions.



‘Youth culture’ has taken many forms throughout the years, with various emphases on anti-social behaviour, specifically focusing on low socio-economic areas and the engrained cultural aspects within the confines of the area (e.g. territoriality, urban peer contacts). The current ‘knife culture’ is yet another manifestation of an important but difficult transition in a young person’s life. Psychologically at an age where impressionability, precariousness and fragility bridge the gap between the maturational point of adolescence that requires secure emotional support, moral guidance, and structure from parents, teachers and peer relationships. Situational factors can have devastating consequences during this developmental stage in life. For example, evidence has highlighted that young low self-esteemed adolescents can fear victimization in low socio-economic marginilised areas. Conversely, actions to suppress this fear can result in carrying of a knife, and even joining a gang, in which – both, create a sense of security, but neither, are a serviceable solution (Bannister et al. 2012).

2. Introduction


In recent years, increased alcohol consumption, youth knife-crime, and related ‘gang membership, have become issues of increased policy relevance across the UK (Eades et al, 2007; Lemos & Crane, 2004; Maxwell et al, 2007; Squires, 2009).  This re-emergence represents a change at the discursive level: a new label to claim dibs on the – not so radically changed – experiences of patterned behaviour from the marginalised urban youth (Eades, Grimshaw, Silvestri & Solomon, 2007). In Scotland, the national newspapers have led the public to believe that there is a gang epidemic, with at least 300 organized street gangs and anything between 130–170 in Scotland’s largest city – Glasgow (Deuchar, 2009). Media portrayals’ and sensationalism have led to ambiguities within the public hemisphere and it is not surprising that the public perception of crime has remained moderately consistent over the last 5 years (Scottish Government, 2010). Still, there has been an overall decline in crime in Scotland in the last 10 years; however, the most common method of killing over the same time period has consistently been with a sharp instrument. In 2012-13, of the 51 persons accused of homicide, for whom – alcohol and drug status was known, 71 % were reported to have been drunk and/or under the influence of drugs at the time of the offence (Scottish Government, 2013). The reason for the lack of research on specific areas of alcohol and knife crime is due to the baseline of uncertainty that lies in the relationships between alcohol, gangs and violence (Bannister, 2010). Furthermore, definitional aspects remain problematic as to what actually constitutes being part of a gang (Deuchar, 2009, 2013; Bannister, 2013).


3. Knife Carrying

 3.1. Defensive vs Offensive


 Not all knife carriers are offenders, and not all offenders of knife crime are carriers. Fear of violence amongst individuals’ most at risk yields a defensive mentality that is mirrored in various aspects of contemporary ‘street culture’, specifically carrying a weapon (Clement, 2010). Furthermore, knife carrying is significantly enhanced amongst individuals’ who have experienced criminal victimisation, and feel socially isolated (Forsyth, Khan & McKinlay, 2010). As a defense strategy, individuals’ turn to a combinational miscellany of substances, which are abused to create a cushion of ignorance against the spatial stigma that discredits them in their disadvantaged neighbourhood (Wacquant 2008). This can lead to further violence and decivilisation (Clement, 2010). The risk of knife carrying is significantly increased amongst individuals’ who have experienced personal forms of adversity (Smith, McVie, Woodward, Shute, Flint & McAra, 2010). Evidently, Bannister et al (2010) found that young people described joining a local gang as a means of ensuring personal protection and reducing the risk of assault from others. This might explain why those living in more crime-ridden areas partake in gang relations – possibly minimally, at the outset, as part of a defense mechanism (Bannister, 2013). However, for many young people who feel in need of protection but do not have the safety net of a gang, carrying a weapon may be an alternative coping strategy (Smith et al. 2010). This could explain why individuals’ who live in relatively gang free regions, are found to be more likely to carry a knife for their own protection.

3.2 Crime Victimisation

Public perception of youth crime should be congruently proportional to the actual prevalence of crime and this is down to the importance of the media, newspapers and Internet. Disproportionate fear of crime can lead to the allocation of security resources in the wrong areas. This is ineffective at both a personal and governmental level which could lead to unnecessary confliction in misdirecting police officers to areas subjecting groups of individuals’ to unreasonable and consistent harassment. There is a focus on the risk of stereotyping within communities, ethnic groups, and young people more generally (Clement, 2010). The way crime is covered by the media is often sensationalized and as a consequence, can create excessive fear of ‘knife crime’ and of young people. It is desirable that media presentation of news be more factual and less sensationalist (Watson, 2005). It should also be of the utmost of importance to present statistical data in a transparent and easy to understand manner.


4. Family Relationships

 4.1 Sociological Inheritance

Due to sociological inheritance the rules and values implied in the experiences of young people growing up in marginalised families – moreover, families that are unstable and disordered, holds a significant influence in shaping the self-image and identity of young people. More recently, Bannister et al. (2010) found that youth gang members frequently cited the participation of their older siblings and parents in youth gangs as informing their awareness of gang culture, and thus, serving to legitimise their participation (Elias, 1969). It follows that a clear recognition and demarcation of traditional territorial boundaries might, for some individuals’, form part of a neighbourhood and family’s legacy, as might a set of practices inclusive of violent conflict with those from adjacent territories (Bannister, 2012).


 4.2 Territoriality

Culture can be understood in terms of a set of ‘symbolic boundaries’, the split between ‘us’ and ‘them’ being critical to the establishment of groups and the creation of a collective identity (Bannister, Kintrea & Pickering, 2013). It is an expression of human need (Sacks 1986). Territoriality as a social system through which control is claimed by one group over a well-defined geographic area and defended against others’ (Deuchar, 2009). Individuals differentiate themselves from others by drawing on principles of common traits and experiencing a shared sense of belonging. They must be recognised by outsiders as distinct for their collective identity to crystallize’ (Lamont and Small 2008; Bannister et al. 2012). Territoriality has several prospective impacts; in particular social exclusion, the growth of insular (‘bonding’) social capital, and, surprisingly, social cohesion (Bannister, 2010). Across the globe, territoriality tends to be found in association with youth gangs, social disorder, masculinity and poverty (Deuchar, 2012), but attachment to a place and a desire to protect it does not logically entail a propensity to disorder. Territoriality may emerge naturally in the human species, reflecting developmental demands for augmenting ownership of space beyond the boundaries set by family (Robinson 2000, Childress 2004, Thomson and Philo 2005).


5. Peer Relationships

 5.1. Peer Influence


Knife carriers are more likely to have troublesome peers and are more likely than non-knife carriers to socialise with peers who have been involved in offending behaviour and peers who tend to engage in a wider variety of offending types. In addition, knife carriers are more likely to associate with friends who had been in trouble with the police during the course of the previous year. Research findings have highlighted that these associations similarly occur between the ages of 13 and age 16 respectively (Smith et al. 2010). This indicates the importance of peers as a potential source of behavioural influence (Smith, et al 2001). Indeed, this is supported by the finding that knife carriers are more likely than non-knife carriers to score highly on a measure of ‘peer influence’. This measure was created from a series of questions about whether an individual would continue to associate themselves with friends, if these particular friends were getting the individual in trouble at home, in the community or with the police. Smith et al (2010) found that peer influence was consistently higher amongst knife carriers between the ages 13 and 16.


 5.2. Popularity amongst peers

Another reason often given for carrying knifes is the need to be accepted and “respected” by peers (Silvestri, Oldfield, Peter, Squires & Roger Grimshaw, 2009). Peer socialization becomes crucial in late adolescence. The consequences of acquiring popularity amongst peers can go from accepting certain dress codes, to substance use and delinquency, (e.g. carrying a weapon). Whether young people will decide to carry a weapon, excel in sports or an academic discipline to increase their status amongst peers, depends on the social settings, which prevail in the community at large or within their families or peers. Studies have shown that in the presence of peers, adolescents are biased towards making risky decisions and increase their willingness to behave in an antisocial fashion because it is an opportunity to reaffirm status within the presence of the peer group. The complexity of circumstances affecting behaviour is coupled with the complexity of social meanings, values and behaviour, which young people experience and re-negotiate, individually and in groups (Silvestri et al. 2009). Acting to maintain one’s local reputation and the ‘respect’ of others can provoke conflict and violence (McKinlay, Forsyth & Khan, 2009).


 5.3. Previous Offending amongst peers


Knife carriers are more likely than non-knife carriers to socialise with previous offenders and to socialise with peers who engage in a wider variety of offending types. In addition, knife carriers are more likely to say that their friends have been in trouble with the police during the course of the last year. These findings were remarkably consistently similar between ages 13 and 16, which indicates the importance of peers as a potential source of behavioural influence (Smith et al. 2010). Indeed, this is supported by the finding that knife carriers are more prone than non-knife carriers to score highly on a measure of ‘peer influence’ (Holligan & Deuchar, 2009). This measure was created from a series of questions about whether the respondent would continue to hang around with or listen to his/her friends if they were getting the respondent in trouble at home, in the community or with the police. Although peer influence appeared to decline between age 13 and 16, it was consistently higher amongst the knife carriers (Smith et al. 2001). Notions of ‘street credibility’ and ‘respect’ can become very significant to young people who may lack legitimate access to other forms of status achievement. Yet this ‘street social capital’, while it bonds young people closer to their peer groups can also serve to distance them from the wider community and societal values (Knife, Guns & Crime).


 5.4. Gender relations and peers


Although most violence occurs from males, both females and males are vulnerable to similar risk exposure including: violent/chaotic familial situation, disorganised community with gang presence where violence a daily event and similar rationale for joining a gang. Females’ reasons for joining gangs differ substantially from males’ although in Scotland membership is viewed as normative as a means of protection and the opportunity for socializing. Important gender differences noted are; age of entering a gang and patterns of offending behaviour i.e. girls are less likely to seriously offend and are also, less likely to be targets of violence. Females use different forms of aggression, inflict less harm, and are more likely to have defensive intent compared with men. She also contends with knowledge of prior evidence that women are more likely to use indirect or passive forms of aggression; such as angry looks and body language, as opposed to men’s’ more direct forms (Kathryn Graham, 2006).


  6 Alcohol

6.1. Typologies


A substantial amount of aggression can occur when people have been drinking alcohol (Graham, Wells & West, 1997). It has been highlighted that alcohol can affect different people in different ways due to social contextual factors; emotional stability and general mood factor before and after comsumption may potentiate the effects of alcohol (Graham et al. 2000). Alcohol affects the GABA (Gamma amino butyric acid) benzodiazepine receptor complex (Miczek, Weets & DeBold, 1993; Miczek et al. 1997). Because benzodiazepines are an anti-anxiety drug, mixing them with alcohol could lead to excess aggression by making the drinker less anxious about the consequences of their actions in social settings. (Graham, West & Wells, 2000). Alcohol also causes cognitive impairment reducing the individual’s inability to think clearly, it leads to short sightedness – where the individual does not have the cognitive ability to thing through the consequences of their actions (alcoholic myopia), and it may also be related to uncontrollable power, force and physical numbness (Graham et al. 2000). Some of the hypotheses that have been developed through natural observation, quasi-experiments and empirical studies are listed below:


  • Disinhibition Hypothesis – loose sense of ‘right and wrong’, misjudge situations, (“it makes a man mistake words for thoughts”, [Samuel Johnson]) (Young, Sweeting & West, 2008)
  • Alcoholic myopia’ a failure to think through the consequences (Schreiber Compo, Evans, Carol, Kemp, Villalba, Ham, Rose, 2011)
  • Arousal Hypothesis – some drugs trigger our aggressive tendencies, get ‘psyched up’, automatons acting ‘out of character’ in the moment (Pihl & Zacchia, 1986)
  • Susceptibility Hypothesis – background factors, both genetic (e.g. men) and/or social (e.g. ‘hyper-’masculinity), individual or societal (Saunders & Williams, 1983)
  • Deviance Disavowal  – post-hoc attributional, ‘only an excuse’ (‘must have been drunk because I’ve got a head injury) (Quigley & Leonard, 2006)
  • Rational Disinhibition – pre-planned intoxication (McCarthy, Kroll & Smith, 2001)
  • Dutch courage’ to facilitate violence (or a controlling fear of it) (Jones & Fear, 2011)
  • Expectancy Theory – (Cultural) belief that (some) drink(s) ‘makes you violent’, conditioning and placebo effects (e.g. whisky = fight, gin-depressed, brandy=randy) (Jones, Corbin & Fromme, 2001).
  • The drunken comportment Cultural tradition ‘They have their own reasons. And those, too, shape subsequent drunken behavior’. (MacAndrew & Edgerton, 1969)
  • Attentional Hypothesis – overreact to cues / conditioning, triggers, act on impulse (Giancola, Josephs, Dewall & Gunn, 2009)
  • Drinking Context – Drinking Buckfast in the park is the same as drinking Merlot plus coffee in a fancy restaurant (but the drinker in the park is less likely to drive home!) (Ham, Zamboanga, Bridges, Casner & Bacon, 2013)
  • Appraisal Disruption – failure to respond to stress or interpret threat (e.g. facial expressions – Ekman’s Faces) ‘who are you looking at?’ (Sayette, 1993)


Personal characteristics that may predispose individuals’ to alcohol-related aggression include age, deviant attitudes, general concerns about power, poverty or membership in a marginalised subpopulation i.e. contextual element (Graham et al. 2000).

It was thought in the past that alcohol violence was primarily due to a psycho-pharmacological consequence of drinking. But other factors must be taken into consideration such as, clientele of the night-time economy, poor management, entertainments, sexual behaviours, cultural norms and perceptions.


 6.2. Alcohol and Violence

Alcohol misuse is viewed by a majority of the population aged 16 and over as a serious social issue in Scotland. 66% of respondents to the Scottish Crime and Victimisation Survey 2004 rated alcohol as a big problem in Scotland (only 5% said it is not a problem) (Alcohol Focus Scotland). One of the most salient behavioral effects caused by alcohol is the enhanced predisposition to risky, impulsive and aggressive behaviour. Heavy episodic drinking appears to interfere with individuals’ decision making processes (working memory) during potentially violent encounters, which could facilitate weapon use during a fight, and therefore more risk of attaining a custodial sentence. Hence, the large number of respondents blaming alcohol for their imprisonment. This was further evidenced by interviewees who had used a knife but were unable to remember how they obtained this weapon, let alone why they used it.

In the Youth Offender Qualitative Study (2007) the proportion of offenders that had consumed alcohol prior a current offence fell to 41.3% (1996) before increasing to 81.3% (2007) doubling in the space of ten years. Research has highlighted that the proportion of offenders that blamed a current offence on drinking rose from 40.0% (1996) to 56.8% (1997). All interviewees questioned linked alcohol to their offending, and in some cases individuals’ linked alcohol to their previous offences (reference). While intoxicated offenders are also more likely to get caught after a violent incident, both by the police or rival gangs depending on the circumstances. The research also supports evidence from Scottish Accident and Emergency rooms, which indicate that alcohol consumption by victims, as well as by perpetrators, is a factor in the severity of the knife injuries (Forsyth, Khan & McKinlay, 2010). There is little evidence of a causal link between alcohol and violence in Scotland (see 6.5), or elsewhere, but when violence does occur alcohol may make the consequences more serious.


  6.3. Alcohol and Weapons


Although the two are clearly linked, the evidence presented here suggests that it is simplistic to think only of a ‘booze and blades culture’ among violent offenders in Scotland. Such violence was not restricted to bladed weapons, and even terms such as ‘knife-carrying’ and using do not fully describe the patterns of weapon involvement found here. Free ready made weapons, bottles conveniently lying around and domestic tumblers as a weapon. A “knife” was the most commonly ‘used’ weapon (n = 43). “Knife” ‘users’ tended to be a subset of those who had had carried (n = 53), (this excludes ‘special’ knives e.g. ‘lockback’, ‘flick’, Stanley®, sword, machete, etc.). A “bottle” was the second most often ‘used’ weapon (n = 21). In contrast to a knife only 2 prisoners had ever ‘carried’ a “bottle”. Focusing upon the weapons themselves may prove something of a distraction. A long-term and multi-faceted approach is needed to understand and tackle the conditions in which weapon carrying and use comes to be considered an option – or a necessity (Silvestri, 2009). The ubiquitous nature of knives (and other bladed implements) suggests that more imaginative and broader policy interventions are needed, either in conjunction with or instead of stop-search and licensing / restricted prohibitions.


   6.4. Overall Alcohol Related Offenses


Drunkenness can be a contributory factor in many crimes (such as assault or breach of the peace but is not recorded as such. Variation in the offence of drunkenness both over time and by geographical area may be influenced by local policing practice and interventions. In 2009/10 there were 5,722 offences of drunkenness recorded by the eight Scottish police forces, a decrease of 5% from 6,045 offences recorded in 2008/09. Offences of drunkenness have fallen overall between 2000/01 and 2009/10, from 7,789 offences in 2000/01 to 5,722 offences in 2009/10. There were 11 drunkenness offences recorded per 10,000 population in Scotland in 2009/10 (Alcohol & Social Harm, 2011).

In 2012-13, a sharp instrument was the main method of killing for 26 (42%) of the homicide victims. This is a decrease of nine percentage points in the percentage of victims where the main method of killing was with a sharp instrument compared to 2011-12. Whilst this figure is down compared to 2011-12, sharp instruments were still the main method of killing in over one and a half times as many homicides as the next most common main method of killing, which in 2012-13, was hitting and kicking. Also, sharp instruments were the most common main method of killing for both male and female victims. For females, a sharp instrument was the most common main method of killing jointly with strangulation or asphyxiation. For male victims, the next most common main method of killing was hitting and kicking, affecting 26 % of male victims (Scottish Statistics).


 6.5. Drug and Alcohol related Homicide in Scotland


Homicide: Accused drink/drug status (where known) 2003/04-12/13

Although there is not proof of causative measures of alcohol facilitating violence, there is a high percentage of offenses that take place while individual’s are under the influence of alcohol.


Neither drunk nor on drugs = 21.9% n=199

On drugs = 11.3% n=103

Drunk and on drugs= 14,3% n=130

Drunk, 52.3% n=477


Source: Statistical Bulletin Crime & Justice Series, 2013, Homicide in Scotland 2012/13


7 Gangs

 7.1. The nature and impact of gangs


Scottish gangs are not profit making hierarchical criminal enterprises and they have no interest on franchising themselves by active recruitment. They are far more territorial and embedded within the culture of marginalized low socio-economic areas. 65.7%, of Youth Offenders in the 2007 sample stated that they had been in a gang while in the community. Interviews have revealed that analogous groups do not necessarily relate overtly to a gang per se – as it is the mere geography of their territory, that establishes their gang membership, this is very particular of parts of Scotland where gang membership is not overtly acknowledged. Some young people attach real significance and meaning to belonging to a recognisable group or gang. While the term ‘gang’ might be used broadly to refer to many groups of young people, it is important in policy terms to recognise the difference between the large number of young people who may be associated as a somewhat troublesome youth group and the very small minority of youths who feel strongly attached to a more problematic gang. Bannister (2010) also highlighted that there are definitional problems with the term ‘gang’ that need to be understood in interpreting data such as these (Smith et al. 2001).


Whereas gang membership is strongly linked to social adversity, risk of knife carrying is significantly increased amongst those who have experienced more personal forms of adversity. As mentioned earlier, some individuals’ described joining a local gang as a means of ensuring personal protection and reducing risk of assault from others. However, for many young people who live in crime-ridden areas and feel the need to protect themselves and do not have the option of joining a gang, carrying a weapon may be an alternative coping strategy. Risk of knife carrying is significantly enhanced amongst young people who have had experience of criminal victimization.


 7.2 Individual Vulnerability

Research evidence suggests that young people who offend are likely to have low self-esteem, are socially alienated or marginalised within society and have a tendency to be highly impulsive. This was borne out by the findings on knife carriers, who displayed lower mean scores for self-esteem, and high mean scores for both impulsivity and alienation compared to non-knife carriers. Also, knife carriers living in social isolation can are more susceptible to engaged in self-harming behaviour Overall, however, self-esteem increased between age 13 and 16 while levels of both impulsivity and alienation reduced. This may suggest that these personality indicators may be more important determinants of behaviour at younger ages. (Smith, McVie, Woodward, Shute, Flint & McAra, 2001)


These characteristics indicate that knife carriers are a highly vulnerable and at risk group, for whom carrying a knife is a rational choice based on the fear of experiencing a personal attack. In policy terms, these findings highlight the importance of educational strategies that demonstrate the dangers and risks of carrying weapons, but also of making available a set of wider resources and services targeted at families and neighbourhoods that can help and support very vulnerable young people who live in regular fear of persecution. Such services need to be widely available, not just in deprived areas, however (Smith et al. 2001).


 Strain Theory


According to General Strain Theory, social strains such as stressful life events including, poverty, unemployment, separation, death or absence of parents, health problems, neighbourhood problems, vandalism, drug abuse or other forms of crime, goal obstruction, lack of opportunities for employment, failure to achieve monetary success, masculine status, challenging relationships with adults or abusive peer relations can all conspire to bring about negative emotional reactions and attraction to delinquent groups (Agnew, 2007). It has been argued that, in such cases, efforts to control crime with an exclusive focus on punishment and ‘law and order’ principles may, in reality, exacerbate the likelihood of further crime by producing additional strains such as anger and frustration (Agnew, 2007). In terms of GST, Agnew (2007) argues that a reduction in juvenile offending can only be achieved by eliminating or altering strains conducive to crime or altering young people’s perceptions and goals so that they are less likely to view certain strains as severe and unjust.


 9 Policy based on Ambiguous Statistical Findings

 9.1. Measuring the Immeasurable


It is a difficult task to estimate how likely it is for an event to occur, especially for rare events (i.e. being attacked in the street by a youth gang). The media greatly contributes to this misperception. People who read newspapers, which present a large proportion of highly emotional crime news, report higher levels of fear. People’s judgments of causes of death follow closely the proportion in which they are reported by the press, with violent death being overrated and disease underrated (Clement, 2010). Scotland’s association with alcohol, related violence and policies to counter these issues is long-standing. At present, there is little evidence to indicate that Scotland’s problems with alcohol are improving. Police recorded data are generally limited in their reliability because of a number of factors, including: much criminal activity does not get reported to the police, is not detected, or does not get recorded by the police. Moreover, changes in recording practices make it difficult to compare data historically. Trends in police data are also susceptible to changes in the way the police go about their activities. Home Office requirements and in the way suspected crimes are recorded are under constant system changes.


 10 Intervention Strategies

 10.1. Perspectives and Viewpoints towards Recidivism


 Based on the assumption that knife carrying leads to the commission of a violent crime, the sentencing options for being in possession of a bladed implement have been increased from a maximum of two years to a maximum of four years imprisonment. However, recent surveys, and previous psychological research on the motivations behind weapon carrying suggest that intending to threaten or harm is only one of the reasons, other significant motivations being personal protection, or protecting family and friends, which may overcome the fear of imprisonment (Pitt, 2008)..

To deliver justice, systems need to address key facts about youth crime: serious offending is linked to a broad range of vulnerabilities and social adversity; early identification of at-risk children runs the risk of labelling and stigmatizing; pathways out of offending are facilitated or impeded by critical moments in the early teenage years, in particular school exclusion and diversionary strategies facilitate the desistance process. The Scottish system should be better placed than most other western systems to deliver justice for children (due to its founding commitment to decriminalization and destigmatization). However, as currently implemented, it appears to be failing many young people (McVie, 2010).

Early intervention with gang members and knife carriers would be likely to reduce the risk of such behaviours becoming more persistent and engrained amongst some offenders. It might be concluded that early intervention should focus on tackling both; violent and non-violent forms of offending behaviour identifying welfare needs and underlying aspects of adversity and vulnerability at social and/or personal level. Early intervention might best be achieved through working with peer groups, in a universal or group-based approach, given the significance at age increasing risk of both gang membership and knife carrying is strongest around the age of 13. Much greater research would need to be conducted to consider when such intervention should be imposed for the maximum positive and minimum negative effect, however (Smith et al. 2001).

There is a substantial importance to focus on welfare needs and of educational inclusion rather than more narrowly circumscribed criminogenic need such as the ‘what works’ paradigm (McVie, 2010). School exclusion is a key point that adversely contributes to subsequent conviction trajectories. Although there are current governmental policies that highlight the importance of inclusional education, there is an urgent need to develop more imaginative ways of retaining challenging children within mainstream educational provision. It is imperative that the culturally embedded problem of Scotland’s drinking culture be addressed through the school curriculum at an early age.


 11. Conclusion

As gatekeepers to the care and justice systems, and as the principal agency, which first encounters many problematic children, the police an important role to play in providing justice for children. In particular there is a need to continue to develop policing strategies that provide a precipitatous, firm but flexible response to youth offending and one that offers meaningful diversion wherever possible. This could be run adjacently between multi-agency partnerships that involves, schools, local authorities and community organisations in challenging longstanding cultural divisions and providing positive opportunities and outlets for young individuals’ who would also tackle gang accruement. Efforts to reduce knife crime could be built into such an overarching strategy alongside a desistance paradigm with the aim of helping construct a non-offender identity for young individuals’ (Pitt, 2008). This could perhaps be a step in the right direction as opposed to zero tolerance policies that have been evidenced to be counter productive in creating circuitous loops of frequent reoffenders (Pitt, 2008). This, in turn, has been known to increase the risk of being part of a gang. For this work to be effective it has to be juxtaposed and undertaken within a broader context of societal inclusion and meaningful economic opportunity (Maruna, 2001; McNeill, 2006). The overall aim is to challenging longstanding cultural divisions and providing positive opportunities and outlets for young people so that they can see hope in their future prospects.




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