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Kinsella: No substitute for good research

31/10/2010

Kinsella - The Latest Celebrity Expert?

And so, sadly, we have the latest utterances of a celebrity brought-in by a government to lead an initiative in a  high-profile area of major social concern.

Eastenders’ actress Brooke Kinsella – and her family – have, I am sure, our sympathy in the loss of her younger brother Ben, killed in  a stabbing following a bar-room fracas in 2008.

In June this year, Ms Kinsella was appointed as the Government’s knife crime tsar to lead research and action to reduce knife crime on our streets. This may not be as helpful as first intended.

There has been a growing trend to enlist the latest media celeb to become a government advisor in a chosen area of social, education, or criminal reform. But, at least when celebrity psychologist Tanya Byron was brought-in to report on the impact of digital media and the internet on children, she had solid research credentials to her name.

Without this grounding, the appointment of a telegenic soap star will do little to inform our responses to social problems, especially something as emotive as violent crime.

In a recent seminar, I asked participants to rate whether they thought violent crime had fallen or risen in recent years. Of course, they almost all thought levels had risen. This is not the case, as the British Crime Survey (2009) shows:

Falls in Violent Crime and Fear of Crime

In the UK, violent crime is reducing but the proportion of deaths attributable to knife crime – especially in the capital – has increased.  The good news about falls in violent crime is masked in the media hype about stabbings in London, which does not reflect life for young people generally or across the country as a whole.

In 2009, the Trust for the Study of Adolescence reported 6% of 14-17 year olds had carried knives over the past year. Ms Kinsella’s report – handed to the Home Secretary today – will apparently say that it is due to ‘fear and fashion’ that young people choose to carry knives and that schools should do something about it. I have no doubt that her work will be more sophisticated and nuanced than that. We must hope so.

The table below shows that few of those with experience of carrying knives did so with any intention of committing a crime. Most did so because they were afraid and had no faith in police or adults to protect them from harm.

Why weapons?

This figure is taken from a systematic study which was conducted by Arianna Sylvestri and her team from the respected Centre for Crime & Justice Studies at King’s College, London in June 2009.

Their study – Young People, Knives and Guns: a comprehensive review, analysis and critique of gun and knife crime policies – is everything that an evidence-based “What Works?” report should be. It is based on a systematic analysis of practice and research worldwide and reports on strategies and risk factors which will inform our work in the future.

Most importantly, it highlights the work done to show the complex interplay of risk factors which are likely to lead to violent offending. Having worked with young people with a history of using weapons, this research has a ring of authenticity as well as academic rigour.

There is a growing epidemiological literature about knife crime, but little serious work to show the relative efficacy of strategies used to reduce or eradicate this problem.

Sylvestri et al’s work is, therefore, timely and will indicate the difficult path ahead for those who work full-time in this field.

Asking celebrity actresses to research and teachers to police is to misunderstand the nature and severity of this problem.

Source

Silvestri A, Oldfield M, Squires P & Grimshaw R (2009), Young People, Knives and Guns: a comprehensive review, analysis and critique of gun and knife crime policies; London; Centre for the Study of Crime and Justice; King’s College.

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From → Crime, Research

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