Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Law & Order : Sentences for weapons offences rise 35% as courts crack down on knife & gun crime culture

Knife & gun crime in Scotland gets the crack down treatment from Scotland’s courts as sentences rise some 35% for offenders convicted of handling offensive weapons.

The Scotsman reports :

Courts get tough as jail terms go up 35% for weapons offences

Published Date: 29 April 2009
By Tanya Thompson
Social Affairs Correspondent

SCOTLAND'S courts are cracking down on knife and gun crime with longer jail terms for those convicted of handling offensive weapons, new figures show.

The average sentence for those convicted of the offence rose by 35 per cent last year to more than seven months, according to Scottish government statistics published yesterday.

The increase – from 161 days to 217 days – was described by justice secretary Kenny MacAskill as a stark warning for youngsters who carry a knife.

"These statistics should act as a wake-up call for those people – generally young men – who think carrying a knife brings with it protection," he said.

"Rather than protection, it is likely to bring a prison sentence – and a lengthy one at that."

Scotland has the worst knife crime level in the UK, three and a half times more than south of the Border. On average, surgeons in Glasgow deal with a facial injury every six hours.

In January, the issue came under the spotlight as MSPs were warned they would have "blood on their hands" if they failed to change the law on knife crime. A summit at Holyrood heard the warning from John Muir, the campaigning father of Damian Muir, who was murdered 21 months ago.

Mr Muir said there would be many more deaths if MSPs failed to introduce mandatory prison sentences for people carrying knives in Scotland.

The Scottish Government has clashed with opposition parties in recent months over the way to tackle blade culture.

In January, critics warned that plans to curb the use of short-term jail sentences would allow hundreds of knife-wielding criminals to roam the streets.

Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour leader, said most knife-crime offenders were given short jail terms, so, by getting rid of these sentences, ministers would allow hundreds of criminals to remain on the streets.

It emerged yesterday that 76 per cent of all sentences were of six months or less – the type of sentence the justice minister has pledged to cut down on.

A raft of other statistics were disclosed on criminal court proceedings yesterday, including a 12 per cent rise in violent crime.

The latest figures were seized on by Labour, which accused the Scottish Government of being soft on crime and failing to get to grips with knife crime.

Labour's shadow justice secretary Richard Baker said: "The SNP are losing the battle in key areas of tackling crime and their soft-touch approach is clearly not working.

"The most worrying aspect of these figures is the increase in violent crime."

The Conservatives said current justice policies provided no deterrent and they urged ministers to push ahead with the scrapping of automatic early release for inmates.

Figures show the peak age of conviction for men is 18, with 7 per cent of all Scottish males convicted of a crime or offence such as breach of the peace at least once during the year.

The number of custodial sentences imposed by the courts was just under 16,700 – the second largest figure recorded during the last 10 years.

About 16 per cent of all offences were committed while the offender was on bail – 1 per cent up on the previous year.

The total number of people convicted in Scottish courts last year was 133,100 – a drop of 1 per cent on the previous year.

Mr MacAskill said "credible" community service options were needed to end the cycle of offending. He said evidence showed short sentences did not do enough to tackle the revolving door of minor offending.

He added: "Around three quarters of those jailed for six months or less re-offend within two years while three fifths of those given community orders are not re-convicted within two years."


SOCIAL workers face an "unsustainable burden" dealing with parental failure and broken families, the Scottish Conservative leader warned yesterday.

Chairing a conference in Edinburgh aimed at tackling "the cycle of family breakdown and crime", Annabel Goldie said parenting skills must be taught where they are missing and couples should be encouraged to stay together.

"We ask our social workers to accept an awesome burden of responsibility," Miss Goldie said. "When all else has failed, we expect them to pick up the pieces."

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