A stab in the dark: Is the deterrent sentencing policy adopted for knife crime having the desired deterrent effect?

Research output: Other contributionpeer-review


The offence of possessing a bladed or sharply pointed article in a public place was first introduced in September 1988 at a time when it was widely reported that incidents of knife related violence were on the increase. By prohibiting the carrying of such items in public places, it was hoped that incidents of stabbings and knife attacks would be curbed. Despite the serious issue that the offence was designed to address, when first enacted, the maximum penalty was merely a fine. Over a number of staged increases, by February 2007, the offence was punishable with up to four years imprisonment. Sentencing guidelines provided that the starting point for an offender carrying a knife in a public place, in circumstances where it was not used to threaten or cause fear and where it was not likely to be so used, was 12 weeks imprisonment. While this strict deterrent approach to sentencing was met with approval, research has shown that there is not necessarily a link between an increase in the severity of sentence and the decrease of crime rates. The distinctly utilitarian threat of imprisonment projects a clear message that carrying knives is abhorrent but given the reasons why offenders carry such items, it is questionable whether it is in fact a disincentive. With full consideration of the development of this sentencing policy, an analysis of the incidence of knife crime and a review of research on deterrent sentencing, this paper considers whether the current approach is the most effective way of dealing with the “epidemic” and whether it can be justified on the philosophical principles underpinning punishment.
Original languageEnglish
TypeConference Paper
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jun 2013


  • Knife
  • bladed article
  • deterrence
  • sentencing


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