Dozens of repeat knife crime offenders spared prison

Dozens of adult criminals caught carrying knives for at least a second time in Northumberland were spared an immediate prison sentence last year, figures reveal.

By Alex Ross
Monday, 23rd August 2021, 10:07 am
Updated Monday, 23rd August 2021, 10:43 am
Jail is supposed to be automatic for people caught carrying a knife more than once.
Jail is supposed to be automatic for people caught carrying a knife more than once.

Anti-knife campaigners say they are concerned 'leniency' toward repeat offenders from the country's criminal justice system is undermining their efforts.

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data shows there were 171 cases where an offender was convicted or cautioned again over possession of a knife or offensive weapon in Northumberland in the year to March.

Of those cases, 85 were given an immediate jail sentence while 53 received a suspended sentence, 18 were given in a community order and three were cautioned.

It meant in 74 cases the repeat offender was not sent straight to prison, despite the law outlining that adults already convicted of the crime should face a minimum six-month jail term under the "two strikes and out" system brought in six years ago.

However, the outcome was not specified in 12 more cases which had not reached sentencing or had been dealt with by another means, such as a fine or a discharge.

Across England and Wales, 1,362 (34%) of 4,036 knife possession cases involving an offender previously convicted or cautioned did not result in an immediate jail sentence in 2020-21.

The outcomes for 314 were not specified.

The Ministry of Justice said the rate of immediate prison sentences had been impacted by the pandemic, with a higher number of cases not reaching sentencing on time compared to previous years.

It also said there had been an increase in suspended sentences, possibly down to cases of coronavirus in the prison system.

But the Ben Kinsella Trust – a charity campaigning against knife crime in the name of the teenager stabbed to death in 2008 – said the criminal justice system must regard carrying weapons with the "severity that it deserves".

Chief executive Patrick Green said: "We are committed to preventative and targeted approaches to put an end to knife crime, but for those who consistently reoffend, we rely on the criminal justice system to play a major role in our ongoing struggle.

"The figures raise concern about the criminal justice system's effectiveness at reducing weapon carriers on our streets and the leniency of the sentencing suggests an inappropriately weak response."

Although the MoJ warns any repeat knife offender should expect an immediate prison sentence, there is currently no minimum sentence for someone caught carrying a knife or offensive weapon for the first time.

In total, 478 cases of knife possession – including offenders aged under 18 – led to convictions and cautions in Northumberland in 2020-21, down from 550 the year before.

It reflected the national picture, with that figure also dropping across England and Wales to 16,292 convictions and cautions, from 18,721 in 2019-20.

A spokesperson added: "Those caught carrying a knife are more likely to be sent to jail and for longer than they were a decade ago.

“We are also recruiting 20,000 extra police officers, making it easier to use stop and search."

The Judiciary Office said any sentence given by a judge or magistrates was considered "carefully" using law and sentencing guidelines.

A spokesperson said: "They also take into account any aggravating or mitigating factors which could increase or reduce the sentence.”