Figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) released last week show that knife and offensive weapon offences that resulted in either a caution or conviction in England and Wales are rapidly returning to pre-pandemic levels. In total, 20,202 of these types of offences were recorded in the year ending September 2021, up from 18,296 in 2020.
In 2019, the figure hit an all-time high of 22,495 as the scope of the problem on Britain’s streets was laid bare.
But now, after a drop resulting from people being forced to stay indoors during the pandemic, this data shows the issue isn’t retreating.
The MoJ figures show that, despite the “two strikes and you’re out” law, more than four in 10 repeat offenders aren’t ending up in jail.
The “two strikes” law was introduced in 2020 in an attempt to prompt judges to crack down on knife offences.
The new data shows offenders were more likely to be handed suspended sentences, community service, fines, cautions or conditional discharges.
Just 28 percent of all offenders ended up in immediate custody, down from 36 percent in the previous reporting year.
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The figures show 59 percent of repeat offenders were sentenced to immediate imprisonment, while a quarter escaped custody by being given suspended sentences.
This figure is down from 71 percent of repeat offenders sentenced to immediate custody in 2020.
Sir Mike Penning, a former Conservative policing and justice minister, accused judges of letting down victims.
He said: “It is appalling for victims. [They] need to know the full force of the law will be used when culprits are found guilty.
“It is appalling for the police as well. They are doing their job, getting these people into court and the judiciary is not doing what Parliament intended them to do.
“Judges and magistrates need to know that Parliament passed the [two strikes] law for a reason. That is to protect victims and for victims to know that they are being listened to.
“Surely it’s the duty of the courts to recognise that.”
Steve Reed, the Shadow Justice Secretary, said: “The Conservatives have already broken their promise to lock up repeat knife offenders.
“This is yet more evidence that they are letting violent criminals off and letting victims down.”
However, some experts have said the statistics might reflect a more sustainable change.
Hannah Costley, crime and regulatory solicitor at Slater Heelis, told Express.co.uk: “I encourage and support the decrease in defendants being given an immediate custodial offence as rehabilitation and education are far better resources to ensure that offenders do not involve themselves in this kind of offence again.
“Whilst prison can serve as a means to shock defendants and teach them the consequences of their actions, some defendants may find themselves vulnerable to grooming by experienced criminals and actually be released from prison prepared and equipped to commit more serious offences.”
The MoJ data also showed a 10 percent increase in the number of knife crime offenders brought before the courts in the year to September 2021.
This can be partly explained by the pandemic, with overall numbers coming before the courts for knife crimes still lower than pre-pandemic levels.
For those who did face a judge, the data shows the average length of jail sentences fell from 7.8 to 7.6 months in the past two years.
This figure is largely driven by a fall in sentence length for possession, from an average of 8.1 to 7.1 months.
Speaking on the figures, a Government spokesman said: “Those caught carrying a knife are more likely to be sent to jail, and for longer, than they were a decade ago.”
In the year ending September 2011, 5,155 knife offences resulted in immediate custody. In 2021 that figure was 5,728.
This marks an increase of around 11 percent.
Of those, the average immediate custody length in 2011 for possession of an article with a blade or point was 5.4 months, compared to 7.2 months in 2011.
The average immediate custody length for possession of an offensive weapon actually decreased between 2011 and 2021, from 7.4 months to 7.1 months.
Overall sentence length has increased over the past decade, however, from an average of 6.2 months to 7.6 months.