Byline: Graham Grant Home Affairs Editor
AN SNP move to lock up knife criminals for longer was branded a 'farce' yesterday, after it emerged that virtually all offenders will escape the harsher penalty.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announced yesterday that the maximum jail sentence for knife-carrying will rise from four to five years.
But official figures show that only one person out of 762 jailed in 2010-11 for 'handling an offensive weapon' was sent to prison for the present four-year maximum.
Previous statistics have shown nearly seven out of ten knife carriers avoid a jail term, while the SNP's failure to abolish early release means those handed the new five-year sentence will be out automatically in just over three years.
Mr MacAskill, who conceded that the rise in the jail tariff would have a largely 'theoretical' effect, also admitted he had no idea how many knife offenders were imprisoned each year - although the latest data will be published today.
Last night, victims' campaigner John Muir, whose son Damian was stabbed to death, said: 'We've got to welcome an increase in the jail tariff for knife possession - but the fact that so few people will be affected by it renders this a farce.
'It's a token gesture and frankly not good enough - MSPs are not listening to the concerns of ordinary members of the public.' Scottish Tory chief whip John Lamont said: 'It's no use having the legislation if it isn't used properly. Alongside increasing the sentence, the Scottish Government should look at how often it is actually used.
'Abolishing automatic early release is the only way to do this and dancing around the subject with half-baked announcements like this will not solve the problem.' Mr MacAskill said the longer sentences would be brought in through legislation next year.
He added: 'The message I'd send out today is that knives cost lives. The consequences can be devastating and carrying a knife is just not worth the risk.
'Our police forces are carrying out a record number of stop-andsearches on the streets, and being caught with a knife could now land you a five-year prison sentence. …