Briefing on children, knife crime and the impact of custody

Knife crime evidence briefing, McNeil and Wheller, College of Policing, April 2019

The College of Policing briefing is a summary of evidence on factors associated with carrying knives, as well as strategies and interventions to tackle knife crime. It aims to inform decisions about approaches to tackling knife crime.


The key findings in the briefing are as follows:

  • People carry knives for different reasons: self protection, to command respect and to use them. The means by which they are dealt with need to be tailored to address the differing underlying reasons for carrying them.
  • Weapon carrying peaks around the age of 15.
  • Adverse childhood experiences – including abuse, neglect, parental criminality and/or substance abuse and being taken into care are major risk factors as are school exclusion and low attainment.
  • For children, custody has been found to significantly increase reoffending, compared to non-custodial sanctions.
  • Work in other jurisdictions such as the USA and Scotland indicate that solutions need to ‘address the root causes of violence. Public health approaches, involving multiple agencies to develop a range of interventions, including prevention work for at-risk groups, as well as law enforcement activity directed at offenders, have been shown to have a positive impact’.


When sentencing a child the court’s central aim has to be to prevent reoffending. Practitioners can reference this study to support arguments in favour of community based penalties.