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Crime statistics have shown a significant increase in knife-based crime, rising from 23,945 offences in the year ending March 2014, to 39,818 offences in the 12 months ending September 2018. This represents a 66% increase and marks the highest number since comparable data was first compiled.

Some have correlated this increase in knife crime with a fall in spending on youth centres, with the average council cutting spending on youth services from £1.9m in 2014-15 to £1.2m in 2017-18, representing a 40% decrease in spending. Robert Booth, for example, identified a lack of funding for youth centres as the cause of increasing knife crime, and the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Knife Crime’s report made similar links to youth services as a whole. This raises the question – are cuts in youth services and centres related to the rise in knife crime?

The Scottish Government invested in a programme to deal with rising rates of youth violence and knife-related crime, treating the issue as a preventable matter of public health. It created the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), a special department that targeted four key areas: gangs, health, education and opportunity. In each area it used specific tactics; for example, in ‘health’ surgeons were sent into schools to share their harrowing experiences of knife related injuries.

In 2009, the VRU introduced the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). This was designed to offer young people an alternative to gang membership, such as youth clubs, as well as the prospect of training and work. Within two years of introducing the CIRV, there was a 50% reduction in violent crime. While this was not just knife crime, research has shown that mentoring and the provision of role models, a key part of youth centres, is highly effective in the prevention of knife crime specifically.

However, other research has shown that youth centres can exacerbate anti-social behaviour if sessions are uncontrolled and unplanned. When opening these establishments, children that take part in structured extracurricular activities have been shown to commit fewer criminal offences. Decline in anti-social behaviour is thus dependent on how well these programmes are implemented. They cannot just be places for children to waste time. Types of programmes that have been shown to reduce the occurrence of violent behaviour include well-structured sessions of sports and arts.

That being said, youth centres were not the only tool used by the VRU. They are one way the VRU engaged with youths amongst other vital lifelines and as evidenced, youth centres can be one way of reducing knife crime when used properly alongside other means. Even with all the tools at the VRU’s disposal, studies have shown that improvements in behaviour and life chances are also dependent on other things, such as whether the individual’s social network also participated in extracurricular activities.

In conclusion, research suggests that when delivered correctly, youth centres can help to reduce criminal behaviour including knife crime, but they are not the only solution. Rather, youth centres are a vital piece in a multi-dimensional approach that must be used effectively and engagingly to prevent young people becoming involved in crime.

Zac Thomson is currently undertaking a week’s work experience with Bright Blue. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.