The rift between Scotland’s most senior police and opposition politicians over the issue of mandatory sentences for possession of a knife has widened, with violence czar, Detective Superintendent John Carnochan, publicly opposing the move.
“Mandatory sentences don’t work and that’s the reason I don’t support them. If I thought there was evidence around that said mandatory sentences do work then I would do that but particularly in relation to violence, and to knife crime, there’s no way we can arrest our way out of this problem. It’s not just about a policing issue,” says Carnochan.
Carnochan heads up the Violence Reduction Unit, the body charged with reducing violence like knife crime.
The Tories’ Bill Aitken has publicly called for the introduction of two-year sentences for knife possession and Labour’s shadow justice Richard Baker favours sixmonth sentences.
Carnochan explained that primary among his concerns about the introduction of mandatory sentences is the practical impact of housing those jailed under the regime.
“Strathclyde Police currently detect about 50 people every week carrying knives so if you double that for Scotland, that’s over 5,000 people a year. Now let’s say they don’t all get caught the first time, let’s say it’s only those who get caught a second time. Let’s half that to 2,500 people: that’s three or four prisons and even if you started building today, it could be eight years before you are ready to open the door. Who do we let out to let the 2,500 in? You are talking about more than 25 per cent of the prison population.
I mean, who do we let out the door? I don’t understand. But fundamentally, it’s because it doesn’t work,” he said.
The Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, Stephen House, also last week came out in opposition to the plans.
House argues that as the legislation will have to provide for ‘exceptions’ – to avoid farcical situations where people are locked up for possession of work tools or pocket knives – far too many cases will seek, successfully, to claim such exceptions.
“Possession of knives and use of knives is an issue – we need to deal with it sensitively and intelligently and not in a dramatic headline-grabbing way that sounds like the obvious answer to it.
“To put down in law that everybody should in the first instance, is simply opening ourselves up to the law of exception. There will be exception after exception coming forward,” House told the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, during its examination of the Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill.