I am very pleased by the government's announcement that they are prepared to introduce mandatory prison sentences for 16 and 17 year olds who threaten with a knife for several reasons.
Firstly (and perhaps of least importance) it serves as a reminder that collectively MPs can make a difference. I worked very closely with my neighbouring MP David Burrowes on my amendment. It was supported by 40 backbenchers who signed an amendment putting this suggestion forward in the first place. It is worth noting that well over half of the signatories were taken from the independent-minded class of 2010, a group I am increasingly proud to belong to. Sometimes I know that one can feel like lobby fodder, but as the governments change of heart shows it is possible to effect positive change.
It is also a win for common sense in policy. The government can now finally begin to remove violent young adults from the streets, offer them rehabilitative services within prison and engage with them constructively upon their re-entry into society. A slap on the wrists with a community sentence is no longer even an option.
But perhaps most importantly, I feel this is a victory for my constituents, hundreds of whom signed a petition through my local newspaper urging the government to think again on youth justice. Among those signatures lie the voices of families and friends of those deeply affected by knife crime in North London, and I am pleased to have been able to assure they were heard.
Sceptics have said, and will continue to argue, that jail sentences don’t work as a deterrent and that young people simply don’t care about what government says. Yet during this morning’s BBC Radio 1 breakfast show, listened to by an audience of eight million people who are primarily under 21, the change in policy received massive coverage. The message has gone out, to the target audience, loud and clear: if you threaten a member of the community with a knife, you will go to prison, regardless of your age.
Nick de Bois is the Conservative MP for Enfield North
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